Saturday, 23 June 2007

Day 4 - St Petersburg

The train pulled into St Petersburg station at exactly 8am, just as the ticket told us it would. You can't fault the punctuality, and I was wondering if the emergency stop was because the train was arriving ahead of time.

We were met on the platform by our next driver who took us to our hotel, the Hotel Shelfort.

This driver's English was much better than the Moscow driver and he was able to give us a brief tour of the city along the way. "Nevskiy Prospect", "Russian McDonalds" etc. OK, so it wasn't the greatest of tours but he was trying, and I don't mean that in a getting-on-my-nerves way either.

Situated on Vasilievsky island (the western most one) the hotel is fairly new and unlike the massive complex at Moscow, this one consisted of only 12 rooms over two floors each of which had its own concierge (who seemed to work all hours). If you're planning on visiting St Petersburg I definitely recommend this hotel as a place to stay.

It was too early to check in properly but we were able to leave our luggage there (in the cleaner's bedroom nonetheless) and having bought some metro tokens for later, went for a walk around the city before popping back to the hotel later to check in properly.

This is the coffee shop that became our morning base, and sometimes evening, for this city. It was obvious from the staff's grasp of English that it was going to be easier to get around as a non-Russian speaker here than in Moscow. St Petersburg is perhaps the most European Russian city, at least of the two we visited :D

A rather pretty pink church.

This was to be the first of many Russian wedding photos we would see on this trip. Tomorrow's date was 7th July 2007, or 7/7/7 a very lucky date for those of a superstitious nature. However those that were unable to book ceremonies/photographers/limos/hotels had to make do with the day before, as with this couple.

This book of stone sits on a jetty opposite The Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Across the river is the cathedral of St. Isaac, which we'd get to later in the day. We decided to follow the Neva River and cross at the Palace Bridge further along.

This is the rather amusingly titled Kunstkamera, finished in 1727 was the first museum to open in the city. Established by Peter the Great it includes amongst it's pieces lots of preserved foetuses and the head of the lover of Catherine I.

That is the Palace Bridge built in 1912 but opened to the public four years later (a war got in the way). It's deliberately kept low so as to not spoil the view.

Nods to the old Russia still adorn it.

In the grounds of the Admiralty.

That stunning green building is the Winter Palace, part of the Hermitage museum complex that we were going to visit tomorrow. It sits on the north side of Palace square.

In the centre of said square is the Alexander column, built from a single piece of granite that took only 2 hours to put up. It celebrates victory of the French.

The square was the main location for both the Bloody Sunday and October Revolutions.

On the south side is this magnificent curved building, but I don't know much about it, only that its curved and magnificent.

They were setting up a concert of some kind here, albeit in a small corner of the square. Jeppe recognised one of the roadies from a gig in Denmark who told us they were setting up for an Elton John gig. In hindsight the flowers on the side screens should have given it away.

A quick walk along the Southern bank of the Neva behind the Admiralty brought us to the bronze statue of Peter the Great. This statue is the symbol of St Petersburg, in much the same way New York has The Statue of Liberty. So for something that is so significant is was odd that the bird crap hadn't been cleaned off his head! The rock is alleged to be the biggest moved by man, Geoff Capes probably.

Standing over 100metres high is St Isaac's Cathedral built over 40 years during the 19 century. Nowadays only a small part of it used for religious ceremonies. The main building is open to tourists. Sad!

Having picked up our coach tickets to Tallinn from a hotel across from the cathedral (much easier than the mission in Moscow) we carried on our little morning walk, which turned out to be a bit more than that. This is the Admiralty building. The gold spire is visible from most of the city (assuming you're not in front of a building) and also marks the end of Nevskiy Prospekt, which we'd walk the next day.

Heading back over the palace bridge as well as the cool fountain display you can see the Peter and Paul island, where we were headed next.

More wedding parties could be found along the water's edge. The fountains were making a scenic backdrop to their photos.

The stretch limo business were solidly booked for this weekend!

I have no idea what this building is but it looks stunning!

A galleon moored along the banks of the river. Its actually been converted into a restaurant and rather strangely a gym on the lower deck.

Peter and Paul island does have a little beach that hosts parties and concerts. There were signs advertising an upcoming festival including Lily Allen amongst others. Having walked for quite a while we decided to stop for a break at the Pacha nightclub, which can be found on the island.

Keith was insistent that he wasn't falling asleep here, but merely resting. Yeah, right!

A rather odd sign at the entrance to the Peter and Paul fortress that warns you amongst other things not to play a saxophone or ski jump. Weird!

The Peter and Paul fortress was the original citadel in the city and built in the early 1700s. It serves as the resting place for many of the Russian Tsars. Although built as a fortress it was never actually needed as such, which is just as well as it was in a rubbish location anyway, quite deep into the city. This woman came over and told us not to take pictures unless she was in them, so we were fortunate.

Across from the island is the military museum.

This is another silly "throw the coins for luck" thing, here its good luck to have a coin land on the wooden post. We looked for beggars in scuba gear picking up the coins that missed but failed to see them.

From the river around Peter and Paul we made our way to Park Alisa, a small park nearby, which had a coaster.

This park was similar to Sokolniki in that it was a small array of rides in a small corner of a big park. As with all the Moscow parks you just bought tickets for the rides you were interested in.

Another inflatable go-kart track, with arrows clearly indicating the direction of travel but no island up this end to go around. The risk of a collision must be high!

There's the caterpillar coaster, by far the most common type out here.

This one was unique in that it passed through the branches of a nearby tree. Grounds to sue in the US but taken as fun here. Duck Keith, Duck!

The chairoplane had a nice plane addition at the top!

More stolen Disney logos.

This is the route we'd walked in the morning, a little more than intended...

Having finished with Park Alisa we decided to try our luck at Divo Ostrov, another park that ended up being the first proper theme park on the trip but first we had to go back to the hotel to check in.

The Metro is similar to Russia. Amazingly clean, very punctual and efficient and extremely deep underground.

A short walk from the hotel is the Petrovskiy Stadium and sporting complex. Home to FC Zenit, a team I can't say I've ever heard of. We were only here to use the Metro that would take us to Divo Ostrov.

Nice station though, although I've subsequently read that the ceiling contains loads of asbestos. Could this have been where I picked up my cough from?

Divo Ostrov is located on Krestovskiy Island and was the first, and only Russian park to look like a proper theme park with a decent selection of rides i.e. not a caterpillar in sight.

Having paid a small entrance fee, and security check, we were allowed in. This wasn't the norm but we later found out that there was a concert taking place in the park, hence the small upcharge and additional security. According to my research we were expecting to see five coasters here, so plenty to keep us entertained.

Pretty cool go-karts.

Coaster number 1 was Flitzer, which I'd ridden similar at Bakken in Denmark, and would be doing again later on the trip. This closed shortly after and remained down for the next few days. Some of our friends who were visiting the park later didn't get to ride it, so here's proof it was working just in case you think we're making it up ;)

Coaster number 2 was this rough corkscrew coaster, made doubly worse by us having to wait in the train for quite some time for enough other riders to come along and fill the train. Although the park was busy the rides weren't so we were in that position of waiting for trains to fill. I can only assume the majority of people were here for the concert.

This is Afterburner, which looked like a great ride and having ridden similar in Italy (the only other one of its kind) was expected to be the best ride in Russia. As it turns out it wasn't open and doesn't appear to have ever opened. Quite strange and no-one we've spoken to seems to know what happened here although the suspicion is the park must have got into some sort of financial wrangling with the builders and aborted the installation.

A ridiculously powerful bungee catapult, which wasn't working today.

A rollover ride that was, yes you've guessed it, not working today.

The StarFlyer was working but for some reason we never got around to riding it. Those rides scare me...

Here's our handy tip for coping with Divo Ostrov. Don't buy the all-ride tickets as they work out very expensive. Instead put together a shopping list using the list of rides posted on the side of the ticket booth (they're in Russian and English). If you present them with the the Russian descriptions with a quantity beside it they'll give you the tickets. Also be aware that some rides don't open all day, some close early. It was amusing having difficulty writing the reverse R character only to see the teller have the same difficulty with the normal R when they wrote back in English.

The powered swing wasn't working either, but the big coaster was. More on that in a bit.

The biggest disappointment of the trip by far.

Right this is the imaginatively named Big Russian Mountain coaster, the twin of a ride that people raved about on the Japan trip that I didn't get to ride (it's now at Camelot in the UK after the Japanese park closed). Ignore the covers, this ride was open!

As impressive as it was this ride will become quite memorable for the wrong reason. After having queued for about 5 minutes (the only ride in the park to have a queue) we were sitting waiting to be despatched when the heavens opened. It was raining really really hard. We feared the worst, that they'll close the ride down as would happen in just about every park around the world. Not here, they despatched us out, and having left our jackets behind because it was bright when we got into the train, everyone got completely soaked and had to endure that facial cleansing process you get from traveling at speed in the rain. The ride itself was pretty good other than that, oh and you had to ride with your eyes closed, the rain hurt that bad.

This the concert that most had come to see. The warm up DJ was quite funny playing a track that went "boom boom boom boom" before a vocal went "Shut the f*** up" (something we'd use as a code later on in the trip when people started to get on our nerves). The main act were a rap group called Legalize, which explained the extra security. Russian rap sounds awful, even more so when its over the top of gun shot noises. We didn't stick around for long and the rides were pretty much closed by this point. For all we know he might have been singing "If you see a New Yorker, kill that man. If you see a brit, shoot his ass. If you see a danish man, give him a wedgie" (OK they wouldn't have been the best lyrics...)

There was supposed to be an indoor coaster in here but it was closed. Jeppe was determined to break in but that alien security guard prevented him from doing so.

The Russians appear to like Yoda.

That's the poster for the band if you're interested.

Having had our fill of the park, for today at least we decided to head back into the main part of the city to take a quick look along Nevskiy Prospect and a place to eat. Nevskiy Prospect is the main road in the city and was intended to be a road that would lead all the way to Moscow, although it fell a bit short, by about 400 miles.

This is the Kazan cathedral, the second one of the trip (the other being in Red Square, remember!)

Remember the intro to the pink panther tv show with the pink stretch limo? I think we found it!

Another cathedral just off the main road.

A shot of one of the smaller rivers taken from the Anichkov bridge.

Now this gathering of Russian forces was being mobilised a couple of streets away from the Palace Square. As it turns out they were there to ensure everyone cleared out following the Elton John concert. It seemed to be effective as when we saw them later at the square there was no-one there at all. We did actually head over to see if they'd come wading in with batons, it would have been hilarious!

Day 1 at St Petersburg had come to an end and I was really liking this city. It had a similar vibe to Stockholm with its low buildings and waterways, and with the locals having a better grasp of English made it easier for those of us who had tried to learn Russian and failed.

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