We were checked by Finnish customs and immigration when we boarded the train to St Petersburg and we luckily at the last minute also took our EU passports as they wanted to see our arrival stamp into Europe. We had sent our Australian passports off for the Russian visas which we had to show them and to avoid Schengen agreement problems we had used our EU ones into Europe. Phew!
We changed some Euros into Roubles on the train which was handy and then after crossing the border into Russia and turning our watches forward by an hour, we were again checked by the Russian customs and  immigration officials. No one checked our tickets.

We were both excited to get to St Petersburg after reading so much about the city and it’s history. It was as impressive as we imagined from the metro station which was adorned with sculptures and paintings to the decorated buildings and wide boulevards.
Nevsky Prospekt, the main street was eight lanes wide, four each way and the pavement on one side was seven metres wide and five on the other side. The metro,the third deepest in the world meant to travel on one escalator took about five minutes.
The metro stations names were also in English as well as in Russian so that was a big help. We never waited more than a couple of minutes at any of the stations which were all very clean and tidy. There was always a ticket window open to buy the 30 rouble tokens that we needed to enter the metro. We arrived rugged up for the cold weather and had to peel off layers as it was warm in the sunshine which greeted us. That soon disappeared for the next week.
Our hotel “the Anabel” was set back about a block accessed through an archway on the very long Nevsky Prospekt. The street boasts up to 2million people a day using it in Summer and although it was fairly crowded, tourist numbers were apparently down because of the troubles in the Ukraine. We were not sorry about that.
The hotel was a wonderful surprise as we thought $160 a night for a hotel in the main drag in a city like St Petersburg would buy us a very ordinary and maybe rundown room. It was just the opposite with quality furnishings, a lovely bathroom, complimentary espresso coffee,tea and filtered water in a small lounge area and Olga serving us a full breakfast of cereals,juices,toast and Russian black bread. The month we were in st Petersburg was known as the “white Nights” because of the special light during the night where it never got really dark. It only got a little darker between 1 and 3am but still bright enough to read outside.

We had booked a Free walking tour of the city for the following day although we later discovered that you don’t really have to book them, you can just turn up. We had taken such a tour in Ljubljana and were most impressed by the guide’s local knowledge.
We met Svetlana at the Alexander column the next day and despite the cold and the rain (of course the weather had changed) she led a wonderful walking tour for more than two hours showing us many of the main sights in the city and the riverbank and we had a nice stop at an excellent  cafe/bakery to warm ourselves. We were shown buildings where Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky lived and were given us tips on where to eat. We went along to one “Go Goa” and had a nice late Indian lunch.

The day did not improve so we decided to do the tour of the Vodka museum. (Most of the other museums were closed on Mondays).
The guide gave us (we were on our own) the history of Vodka in Russia and there was an interesting display of the hundreds of various vodkas available and we then had a tasting of three with some typical salty Russian snacks eaten after downing the vodka shots. Some of the exhibits (like the khalashnikov in glass filled with vodka and the vodka paste in a tube for astronauts) were a novelty and some displays of corks tops in brass, ivory and silver were interesting. We were then warmed up enough to continue our walk to the “Church of the Spilled Blood”, so named after Alexander the Ist who was shot and killed inside the church.
The church looked like something out of Red Square in Moscow and was beautiful inside with the entire walls and roof covered in minute mosaic tiles and the outside very ornate with golden and brightly coloured onion domes,multi coloured tiles and detailed relief work.
Inside was a photographic display of the restoration and it was hard to imagine how much intricate work by so many artisans was required to return it to it’s original state. In one of the domes they found an unexploded bomb from the second world war.

We worked out our 10days schedule for St Petersburg taking into account when the various museums were closed. The Hermitage and winter palace
were closed on Mondays but open until 9pm on Wednesdays. The Russian museum was closed on Tuesdays and open until 9pm on Thursdays.
None of them open before 10-10.30 and the shops didn’t seem to open before 10 or 11am and closed between 9 and 10pm.

Many of the buildings in the city are connected by large archways which lead to other buildings at the rear. This was the case with our hotel and the reason it was so quiet.
We tried to go to the Stroganov (yes from the beef) palace however that was closed as it forms part of the Russian museum so we ventured into the Singer (sewing machine) building which is an enormous book shop with books in all languages over two floors and with a lovely cafe overlooking Kazan cathedral. There were a lot of devotees in the cathedral lined up waiting to pray in front of an icon. The women must cover their heads before they enter the church and men must take off any hats or caps (you would think that normal but most young men don’t).

We took the metro to Alexandrovskiy Park across the Neva river and walked back to the Peter and Paul Fortress. There was a lunatic having a dip in the river which would have been very cold. The cathedral located in the fortress grounds housed all the deceased Romanov Tsars and families including Peter the Great and Tsar Nicholas II and his family other than his son Alexei who’s body was never found. They were buried there with a state funeral in 1998.
The commandant’s house also within the grounds showed the history of St Petersburg from the 1700’s until the beginning of WWI and was a fascinating insight into the the city and it’s workings.
It was a cold day 14degrees but with only a little rain so we caught the metro back to Nevsky Prospekt and walked down to the luxury Astoria hotel which had been built in 1910. According to records, Hitler before the siege of Lenningrad (St Petersburg) had instructed his army to destroy St Petersburg but to leave the Astoria hotel. He even had invitations printed for his victory dinner after he had conquered the city. This of course didn’t happen.
We enjoyed a Georgian meal for dinner in one of the restaurants in a backstreet where only locals were dining.
We were very glad after walking the kilometres down Nevsky Prospekt again to get back to the hotel and put our feet up.
It is hard to adjust to the “white nights”and subsequently we seemed to stay up much later than usual and consequently walk many more kilometres than we would normally.

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