Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

St Petes, finally

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:15 PM

Helsinki main railroad station was small but there were shops and a market in the basement. We went in just in time for the freshly baked meat pies. We got some for the train ride. The Italian train Allegro looked brand new, all clean, state of the art everything, even came with a big bottled water in every car. The 3.5 hrs ride was smooth, with just a few stops on the Finnish side, mostly small towns. Scenery not too spectacular. Finnish Border control came and stamped our passports. Once on the Russian side, the landscape changed. more mountainous. no problems with the russian border officers. Asked where our luggage were and we just said 'there'. Stamped our passports and immigration paper, tore 1 half and stuck it in our passports. simple like that. Quite enjoy this ride. Amazed that the Italian made train could be so new and clean and efficient.

Katcha picked us up in a van that reeked of cigarettes. Our hotel was just off the Nevsky Prospekt. The front looked like an old building but renovated. The restaurant small but cozy and it offered afternoon tea everyday from 5-6. Fantastic! the back of the hotel went on and on in a labyrinth. Once out of the elevators, I had to walk up a ramp, turn left, down the hallway, turn right, down another ramp and right again to my room. Was told that old buildings could not be restructured and thus as the hotel added more and more space, they built ramps and hallways to connect the different parts of the different buildings, so the result was a maze to get to your room. The lights were auto sensored, so at first when you turned into a corridor, it was pitch dark, and then a second or 2 later the lights came on. Same thing when I exited my room. Had to wave at the sensors or just wait a second for the lights to come on. Strange and a bit unsettling in the beginning but got used to it after a while. The room was amazingly clean and renovated. Bed, pillows, duvet all acceptable. TV had 2 english channels - euroNews and BBC. No american channels.

We walked up and down Nevsky Prospekt with hotels, shops, restaurants and cafes on both sides. A long avenue with very long blocks lined with magnificently decorated buildings. Just walking here seemed like a major site seeing. So much architecture. 2 starbucks, 1 on each side of the avenue. Got the St Petersburg mug and the girl at the counter asked where I was from. I said california and she said 'wow'. why? 'not many american tourists' she said. I was surprised as I've heard american accent everywhere.

The avenue was busy and crowded with people coming and going. Mostly young people, dressed fashionably in bright jackets, tied pants, women sporting luxury hand bags and leather high heels. Almost every other building was either a restaurant or cafe or bakery. Tons of souvenir shops. KFC, Pizza Hut, H&M, and shopping centers with local markets in the basement like СТОПMAT (stopmat). Many electronics gadget stores. I didnt expect St Petersburg to be so westernized and modern. It didnt have any soviet feel to it. Long gone were the days of Leningrad I suppose. We had afternoon tea at the hotel and the scones, cakes, strudels and pies were delicious. Tea though was just Lipton. For dinner we went to a Georgian restaurant just next door. We had pork Khinkali, the fantastic georgian dumplings that had a broth inside it. You carefully punched a tiny hole, held it up to your mouth and squeezed the juice into your mouth and then swallowed the thing. Mmm, yummy yummy. Khachapuri was a flat bread with cheese, like a pizza. Some other meat pies and beef veggie soup. Delicious dinner. Georgian food was most popular in Russia, due to the fact that Stalin was native Georgian. I didnt mind, Georgian food was so good. I remember the few that we had while in Georgia.

I was beginning to really like St Petersburg and anxious to see the major sites and more of it. Couldnt wait.

Allegro train:





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