A daze, a haze and a little water - first impressions of St Petersburg

We disembarked at St Petersburg's Baltic Station, emerging in a confused daze from lack of sleep, still intoxicated by the awful stench of the man behind us. We headed for the the “Metpo” or underground, and joined the mile long queues under the watchful eye of stern policemen in green uniforms. For the first (of several) times that day, we were asked by locals whether we were standing in the queue... apparently if you don't look intent on your destination and determined to tailgate the person in front of you, then you aren't really queing by St Petersburg standards!

A brief moment of panic ensued when we couldn't find our metro tokens hidden amongst the pile of change we were handed by the cashier. After negotiating the crowds, we found ourselves on the longest, steepest escalator which seemed to last forever and take us very far underground- clunking heavily all the way. The platform was clad entirely in marble supported by many large columns extending the whole height of the cavity, given the distinct impression that we'd entered some sort of underground mausoleum. We then missed several trains whilst trying to decode cyrillic text to figure exactly which train we were supposed to catch...

Above ground, the peak traffic was relentless. We weaved through the wide streets whilst blinking away the haze of smog generated by cars burning low grade petrol. Our hostel room was sparsely furnished, with lacklustre walls and peeling linoleum. On one wall was a radio which played only one station. After learning a few basic words of Russian from the hostel receptionist, we set off to explore the city. We walked along the canals and waterways connecting the islands of St Petersburg, ate Bliny (Russsian pancakes), saw many grand buildings and took in the lollipop spires of the Church on the spilt blood- the site of the bloody assasination of Tsar Alexander II. On the way home, we popped into a local convienience store to pick up a “little water”, local lingo for vodka, for which we were spoilt for choice as there were so many on display on the little shop's shelves. Davide opted for a Russian soft drink, Kvas, which we had to ask for as it was stored (presumably for safe keeping) behind the counter!

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