Tuesday, May 08, 2007

window on the west ...

St. Petersburg is a city of real contrasts where old meets new Russia with a mixture of slightly crumbly old buildings and neon. The fun started on our journey from the airport, where we avoided the ludicrously priced taxi rank and hopped on a local bus to the outskirts of the city to pick up a cheaper cab to our hotel - sounds easy enough until you factor in the difficulty in translating to Cyrillic for a taxi driver who reads of speaks no English!

So 2 hours after arrival we finally made it to the excellent Art Hotel - a small haven of luxury curiously located in one of the rather run down courtyards to be found off every street in St. Petersburg.

After dinner at a local Serbian Restaurant we were presented with our first suprise of the trip - mints in the form of Wrigley's chewing gum - a practice we would see repeated more than once over the next 3 days.

There are some really strange food combinations here ... baked cauliflower and fish, or how about a cheese roll "boat style" with a fried egg in the middle anyone? Actually in general we're enjoying the Russian food so far - even if it is a little quirky.

Then there's the local characters - like meeting the self billed "only Rasta in St. Petersburg" DJing in a bar opposite the US embassy - not so strange you might think, until you discover he looks something like a cross between Spike Milligan and Ken Bates ...

The Hermitage is even bigger than the Louvre in Paris - despite the fact that the building appears to be crumbling away, the collection of paintings is staggering ... literally rooms full of Gaugin, Picasso etc.

One of the more interesting excursions here was a boat trip through the city straight from the Soviet era .... complete with folding chairs on deck and the most tartan travel rugs you're ever likely to see in one place outside Scotland.

You can see all my photos from St. Petersburg by clicking on photo's in the media section - tonight we set off on the first leg of the Trans-Mongolian train journey across Asia with an overnight sleeper to Moscow.

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