Ivan's travels experiences St Petersburg
August 18, 2003
Yesterday morning Hank took me to Amsterdam airport for my flight to Frankfurt and then on to St Petersburg. Totally uneventful as occasions like this should be except for when we arrived at St Petersburg they stepped the brakes ever so fast and it rattled and banged I thought hello that is interesting, however it was a nonevent.
I was one of the first off the plane having filled in my immigration form and customs form in duplicate, collecting my bag, which was second off the plane, lining up to go through goods to declare, because I had my computer and cameras, to be told to go through the green line so it was off out into the waiting crowd found solid looking Russian lady with my name she took me to her car, I put the luggage in, and we were then on our way to my host for the next 11 days.
She presented me with an account as we were driving, for her fee, the fee for my host, and the fee for the bed-and-breakfast in Moscow. Now this was not the arrangement we made by the e-mail so I said nothing, so she told me she did not speak English in any case, arrived at my hosts, after dragged my suitcases up three flights of stairs, thought this was Poland, rail all over again, met my host who spoke good English, she was an English teacher, sorted my driver out settled down for a sleep in their lounge which they rent out every summer, nowhere to hang my clothes, oh well!
Asked my hostess if I could use the telephone to log on for my e-mails to be told that there was a fault somewhere in the telephone line and it would probably take a couple of days to be fixed. This meant finding an Internet cafe tomorrow.
The building that the apartment is in was built in 1913 and has got wonderful ceilings and doors at least 8 ft. tall. Most of the window frames are in need of replacing the road outside the apartment is a graveyard for cars, but it is reasonably central to most of the attractions.
This morning my passport arrived back with the Visa having been registered, I was given a set of keys for the house I made a note of the address in English and Russian, found out the minibus that would take me to the centre, and then decided to walk which was something I had not done enough of since my return to Europe, well I certainly made up for it today, the map I had was too small, the names were in English, the names on the street were in Russian, and you think I could get the two matched, not on your Nellie, so I decided just to walk and look for a company to supply a sim card for my New Zealand cell phone, and then a Internet cafe.
Well the sim card was easy, purchased $10 of airtime and was given a telephone number at no charge, you need your passport to do this. And the phone number lasts for nine months and if not used is automatically cancelled. But do you think I could find an Internet cafe, I walked until lunchtime had lunch, steak and chips 190 rouble. Walked on and on and on. After five hours I arrived back at the apartment talked to my hostess and decided to go back into town via the minibus.
Waited five minutes for the minibus, which took me into the Main Street and low and behold there was an Internet cafe. Purchased 25 minutes of time, the minimum, was allocated computer number 67, yes it was big business in this city, cleared way 40 junk mails, replied to four e-mails and decided to walk back to the apartment.
Down the road and little bit I found a map, purchased it, 50 roubles, looked at it down the road and discovered it was all in Russian, thought all that will be good at least I'll see how the Street names are spelt.
At least I had discovered an easier way back to the apartment with the minibus and the map and I decide to stop for the evening meal with it being about 630.
Found a rather nice restaurant in a large hotel, when sat down was given a menu in English, thought Oh, this is good, prices have very reasonable, my brain at this stage was out of gear, so I ordered my meal, a Diet Coke, another Diet Coke, and another Diet Coke. Just then my eyes drifted to another menu that was on my table and I realised everything was in American dollars. So I did not order another three dollar small glass of Coke, well the meal arrived steak and chips the same as lunchtime, I should have gone to McDonald's for the chips and the $34 steak was not all that smart. Total for dinner 1305 roubles, total for lunch 190 roubles, difference in the meal is zero. So another lesson on the advisability of staying away from the American tourists and their support system.
Time to wander on back to the apartment with my new Russian map to discover that when I needed the names on the streets there were none and when I found a name on the street it was not on my map so I only made one detour that took a extra 30 to 40 minutes before I found myself back at the apartment.
That was probably a good seven hours of walking today so that should help with the old waistline after the easy time I had over the last few weeks.
I did see a few high-heeled shoes today but nothing like the Ukraine, there was certainly nothing to compare between the two countries in the dress of the ladies. The Ukraine wins almost without trying. It will be interesting sometime to do research into this phenomena and I may look for funding to carry out a 10 year research.
I have found it very difficult today trying to find the very many attractions here in the city that all listed in my copy of the lonely planet, but this damn Russian alphabet has me totally baffled. I would have thought that some of the major attractions would have at least had some small English sign out but no, no such thing. Must look for more maps and more guidebooks tomorrow, in English of course.
Well I wandered through the Hermitage and was totally overwhelmed by the size, the expensive decorations, the inlaid floors, the elaborate goldwork, the paintings on the ceilings, I could go on and on and on. It is the grandest building I have ever seen.
And the treasures inside the building leave one gasping. It was a total cultural overload. It is worth while returning to St Petersburg just to walk through the Hermitage again.
Well I felt quite good when I came out of the Hermitage and saw the queue was at least twice as long which based on my wait meant three hours before they were at the ticket counter, unless, heaven forbid, they had opened two ticket counters.
So far since I've been here I had had hot sunny weather. It's been a joy to walk the streets and to walk home from Nevsky Prospekt which takes 45 minutes of fast walking has been enjoyable and a good way of keeping fit.
I finally found that the Internet cafe where I have been downloading my e-mail will also allow me to connect my laptop to their system, you can make local phone calls, long-distance phone calls, it is a busy, busy place with about 70 terminals and a very fast Internet connection. It is just as well because my hostess tells me the phone may not be reconnected at her apartment for several days.
Dined at a small cafe on Nevsky prospekt and could watch the locals walking past, there were seven local lads doing the American Negro dancing of spinning on the ground etc. they had a big audience, lots of applause, past the box around and I hope they got enough money to pay for all the energy they used.
Where I was sitting was on the main street of St Petersburg and was after work, well 730, they did appear to be a much better dressed group of people parading the street that what I saw yesterday on my wanders on the other streets. So could be that two things are at work here, one it is the area the well-dressed people parade, two I may have been seeing girls that had gone home from work and changed their clothes then came back to Nevsky to parade.
Sorry folks the Ukraine still wins for everyday wear in the street during the day. This is of course just a casual comment and by no means is meant to be the conclusion of the extensive study like I suggested earlier in this journal.
With these two days of culture I may never ever be the same again. As a matter of interest tourists pay about 10 times the entrance fee of the local people.
Found an English written Russian newspaper yesterday, it was interesting how it is still a little bit of the wild West here, it was talking about the coming elections and how some of those on the outer are having their telephone conversations bugged, then the people that they were talking to being advised they should not too what the telephone conversation was about. On the street you watch the traffic, even if you have a green light to cross, as I have seen several cars approached the pedestrian crossing at a high-speed blowing their horn, naturally the people scatter, and after observing that a couple of times you treat crossings with respect.
I note in the new guidebook it warns that one should not drink the tap water as it has heavy metal and giardia, so went out and bought some bottled water to clean my teeth with.
I been using the minibus system where you wait on the side of the road and when you see the one you want, mine is 169, you wave, it stops, you get on and pay your 10 roubles (US$0.30) and takes you any distance that is on its route. A fast efficient system, there is one along every five minutes.
As long as you stay away from the American tourist traps it is quite a reasonable city to visit, moneywise, once you can sort out accommodation. You do however need to know the price of souvenirs before you buy from one of the street stalls because like everywhere in the world they count on you not knowing the price and using your value system based on your own country, which of course is out of kilter here.
My first visit was to the "Church Of Spilled Blood", I photographed it from the outside and paid my 50 roubles on top of the 250 entrance fee to photograph inside. Most impressive the painting over almost every exposed portion of the inside of the church.
Then I caught a minibus home, to dump my computer and went back in to the city with just the camera and umbrella. Wandered around Nevsky getting photographs that I missed the other day, went into the Armenian church, where it was handed back to the Armenian community it was a wreck inside after 60 years of neglect and they have worked wonders on the restoration.
It is interesting to see the St Petersburg girls, if you look at one of them in the eye, they will look at you straight back as if they dare you to do something about it, or that is the feeling one gets, this is even if they are with a guy. While having my lunch and I happened to catch a girls eye, she looked me straight back, then looked away, and I could almost see her thinking, I'll teach that old "B" to give me the eye, so she stared me straight back without a blink, all this was getting a little bit more than what I had bargained for so I thought the only honourable way out was to wink, well she could not help herself, but burst out laughing, of course I was laughing as well, then she had to explain all to the girlfriend, but I noticed she did not look back again. Score Ivan one, girl zero.
It is a little disconcerting as your walking down the street and you are admiring a pretty girl walking towards you and she pauses by a rubbish container and spits a good healthy measure in to the container. Funny how you go off people isn't it.
On a wet day you can't help noticing all of the downpipes from the roofs which are of a tremendous size in empty their contents onto the footpath, I thought this must be wonderful with the first frost you would have a good iceskating ring. The size of the downpipes also made me wonder that then I realized that as the air is colder the water would freeze to the edge of the down pipe and ice would make the size of the down pipe smaller, a bit like the clogging of the arteries.
From bottom left
The Russian family I am staying with is a little bit dysfunctional and is a little bit like many homes I visited in New Zealand as a wedding photographer. Unwashed dishes on the bench, cold chips in the frying pan, dishwasher full of dirty dishes, a hot water system in the bathroom there was a simple flow through electric heating system, that supplied warm water, a toilet that smelt, either through the deodorant used or the rubbish container full of used toilet paper. Yes it is interesting.
Also interesting as the moving around in the rain, standing on the side of the road waiting for a minibus, getting on board with all of the other people wet, seeing life as it happens on a daily basis, almost, seeing the people walk in the rain without a umbrella or overcoat, perhaps they can afford neither, seeing the drudge of the ordinary people's life, knowing from experience it is not going to get any better. Yes if you live in the West you need to give thanks on a daily basis that you are not born and one of the Soviet republics. That is of course unless you had the tenacity to become one of the many millionaires and billionaires in these republics.
Is unfortunate that if you speak English in this city you are naturally assumed to be American with a unlimited supply of American dollars hence the street traders and taxis like traders and taxis the worldwide put their prices up by at least 100%. I guess that is part of the price being born in the west, the ability to pay for the ticket to get to this country. I guess that is a small price to pay. But you can't help wishing the Americans understood that all of the economies of the world are not the same and goods in this country actually cost a lot less money.
August 22, 2003
Wandering through a large block of shops I came across a painted wooden egg, a low price of 360 roubles, compared to thousands a roubles in the tourist marketplace. It was interesting in these shops as to the reasonable prices for woman's clothes, that is compared to the west, and the styles were, to me, very good.
have a large semi professional digital camera, which is
unfortunately reasonably large and heavy to carry around
all the time. Particularly in variable weather like I
have had the last couple of days, so I went on to a camera
shop and bought a small digital camera, smaller than a
pack of cigarettes, it appears I paid normal western price
for it, and for that I had the pleasure of getting an
instruction manual in Russian (all was not lost I manage
to download the instruction manual from an Pentax American
web site, I started with the UK web site that they wanted
money for the instruction manual, so I thought, the Americans
are too busy, to be chasing a little pieces like that
and sure enough they had Adobe files for the manual.).
Fortunately I know enough about cameras, to do with out an instruction book to start, for most of it seems to be common sense, however there are one or two minor things which I the downloaded manual will help me with.
I did this as I was going to walk around the Hermitage and over the bridge to the Vasilevskiy Island, this was good being able to pull out the small camera and take photographs as I saw them, but I did not have quite the precision of my good camera, but it was better than nothing. I think I'm going be very pleased with this camera, and I can see that I'll carry it often.
Evidently the island is a popular place for newly married couples to have photographs taken, so I spent an enjoyable hour or more photographing the couples being photographed. The brides did seem to be extremely young by Western standards, more like the Sixties in New Zealand when I was photographing weddings and most of the girls were 18 to 21. In those days if you were 22 and not married you are considered to be an old maid, my how things have changed, today.
Whilst I was on the Island, a young Russian approached me with a book of Russian stamps for 350 roubles, or the equivalent in euro or American dollars, I made hand signs to him that I would talk to him after I had wandered around so on my way back he was waiting, and whilst I assumed he was making a good profit from this, to me it was a reasonable price and worthwhile having, what for I am not sure, but time will tell.
all I took over 80 photographs with the new camera, downloaded
them into the computer, and I was very impressed in pleased.
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