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Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – St Petersburg

St Petersburg was a wonderful city. It had the feel of a place that it would be nice to live and work in for a while – to truly immerse yourself in. Might be an idea to broaden your Russian vocab beyond “Spasiba” though.

As I mentioned earlier, Peter the Great had the city purpose-built from the ground up as a capital after kicking Swedish ass and reclaiming the area for Russia. A travelled chap, he was a big fan of architecture from the Netherlands, Italy and France and apparently brought in the best from all of the above to lend a hand in designing the place. I have it on no authority that the Russian people credit Peter with “Turning Russia toward Europe” and he’s revered greatly for it – well, they don’t call him Peter the Half-Decent do they?

Our arrival in St Pete signified the start of a formal Trans-Mongolian tour. We’d paid a premium here for simplicities sake, and as I sit here writing this I can’t say I regret that. This premium meant we were greeted at the airport by George, an elderly chap who was our driver to the hotel – notice I say hotel, not hostel – improved accommodation was another benefit of the higher outlay.

George’s car windscreen made the world ahead of us look like a Picasso, and the drivers in Russia would benefit from blindfolds, but we survived and found ourselves with a nice gaff at the end of it.

In an attempt to dive right in we braved the Metro on the first night, boldly in search of an Indian Restaurant – I know, I know, local fare should always be the order of the day when you visit somewhere new, but tiredness and the knowledge of a few days ahead of us to sample Russian Cuisine guided our stomachs.

After quickly mastering the Metro and then walking a very long way we found the place and enjoyed a very nice meal. Afterwards we realised we were closer to the hotel than the Metro stop we’d travelled to, so walked St Pete’s main street – Nevsky prospect – back to the hotel.

The next day after breakfast we met Anna our guide for a three-hour walking tour. She was a brilliant host for the morning – showed us all of the prominent sights, full of knowledge, put up with all of our cultural ignorance and took us to a pie shop. What more could you ask?

After returning to the hotel to layer-up and eat said pie we retraced our steps back to the Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood. It was built on the site of the assassination of Alexander II, who was killed by anarchists after his far-reaching reforms – including the abolition of serfdom 800 years after England – were not considered enough.

Outside it looks a lot like St Basils in Moscow, but inside it’s wildly ornate. The colours and symmetry made for an interesting spectacle.

We left and headed for a bookshop our guide had recommended [English books!] to pick up some reading matter for the long train journey ahead. After a long search I’d narrowed it down to 2 options: “Nostradamus Ate My Hamster” – A sure-fire winner by my favourite author Robert Rankin inexplicably available in the middle of St Petersburg, and “Devils” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of Russia’s most famous authors. My commitment to broaden my horizons on this odyssey won through and Dostoevsky made the train. It’s an interesting enough read so far, but lacking in talking sprouts [you’d have to know Rankin…].

We plodded over to a cafe – traditional Russian fare – for tea. There we met a cat dressed with a bow-tie. I christened him “Jimmy Bo[w]” and we proceeded to observe his antics for the duration of the meal. Night photography followed in the bitterly cold Russian air before returning to base.