Changing plans

by

St Petersburg, Russia

With a healthy dose of cynicism, the locals here in St Petersburg call these “Baba Yaga” buildings. Baba Yaga is a Russian mythical, witchy woman with a house on chickens legs. One of Musorgsky’s pictures at the exhibition was the house on chicken legs. He probably had something else in mind.

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A small bombshell went of in our heads last night when we discovered that the only ferry sailing from St Petersburg to Tallin THIS MONTH was on 26 August – no good for us. We’d already decided we’d had enough of fast Russian drivers on narrow country roads and had planned to bale out and take the ferry to Estonia. As there are twice daily sailings between the other Baltic ports we didn’t bother to check. However it seems that there is much less demand for travel to or from St Petersburg and we’d been caught out.

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After some scrabbling around we confirmed that we can take our bikes (assembled) on a slow train (you know, like Australian trains) to Ivangorod on the Estonian border. This mini-crisis has precipitated a decision to skip Moscow and save those days for the Baltic States.

So, we left Sasha and Vlad’s apartment but agreed to have dinner together before we leave St Petersburg and before Vlad returns to his job in the Karelian forests.

We spent the day on the streets of SPB and found it challenging. It is a huge city with chaotic traffic and poor accessibility for bikes and pedestrians. One wouldn’t want to navigate the streets and footpaths in a wheel chair. In fact we’ve seen no wheelchairs and few cyclists.

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Rimsky-Korsakov outside the Admiralty

The city has many canals lined with kilometres of grand or once-grand buildings. The waterfront is rather like Bordeaux but on a larger scale and without Baron Haussman’s finesse. The repair and conservation tasks must be daunting and are not on schedule.

Speaking of daunting tasks, we are catching our breath today and will make our first assault on the Hermitage tomorrow with a two-day pass.

We briefly visited New Holland Island, a depressingly regimented cultural centre and theme-park developed in recent years by Roman Abramovich, billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club and confidante of Vladimir Putin. NHI’s claims to be the coolest, hippest neighbourhood in SPB are belied by the military-style security guards and the chummy totalitarianism of its attendance rules. It is well-manicured but we found it oppressive and left.

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Pink flamingos trapped on New Holland Island

We enjoyed a belated breakfast in an unassuming cafeteria near the Mariinsky Theatre although the food seemed more lunch-aligned. To be fair on that establishment, I think we may have selected from the lunch-time spread. We were attracted to that because a tray of freshly baked stuffed capsicums had just emerged from the kitchen. The food was wholesome if a little bland. The cappuccinos were terrible. My rule henceforth: in Slavic countries stick to black coffee.

The Mariinsky Theatre must have an impressive depth of repertoire and skill at bumping shows if their forthcoming program is anything to go by: Aida one night, Faust the next followed by Parsifal, Onegin, etc in quick succession.

We couldn’t check in to the Capital Hotel until 2pm but the almost comatose concierge let us stash our bags behind his counter. I hate to think how long he’d been on duty but his head was hitting the counter as he repeatedly lost his struggle and dropped off.

We looped past some of the big landmarks, braved a bus lane on Nevsky Prospect for a few blocks and then tried for a better coffee in the unfortunately named and decorated Buddy Cafe. We should have known better. We eschewed milk and asked for espresso but what we got was ristretissimo – ridiculously short in a largish cup.

There are few outdoor cafes so we must learn to spot eateries without the usual cues of tables and umbrellas. We ate excellent Georgian cuisine in a rather swanky restaurant near our hotel while a thunderstorm sent the evening crowds scurrying for shelter. The staff didn’t visibly turn theirs noses up at our shabby appearance.

Oh, and by the way, there were many impressive, gold-trimmed churches.

2 Responses to “Changing plans”

  1. Alexander Says:

    Dear Ian & Rosalie, guess it is a good decision to cut out a part of the dangerous roads in Russia… If I would have given this advice before your tour I think you would miss the essential experience you have now… I travelled Russia, St. Petersbourg, Moscow, and Siberian towns and villages, too, in 1987 and 1989 – at that time in much worse conditions than today!!! No hotels without dollars -we spent nights on the roads or in railway stations… I also travelled the former Soviet republics on the Baltic coasts, in 2008 and 2010 again.

    I am sure you will enjoy Tallin and parts of Estonia. I would keep on the coast roads where you have more tourist infrastructure than elsewhere. In Latvia the most broad waterfalls of Europe are a must – google for Kuldiga! Also the beach of Kolka where you can experience the waves from two directions is worth a visit – less traffic when I have been there… Nice country road from Klaipeda on the Curonian Spit! 10 years ago it was still a secret advice, Nidden is a must, but you will not be lonesome… With a bit luck you can experience fine chamber music concerts in one of the churches. From there you cross the border to Russia again – Kaliningrad I never have been there but if I would have had the visa to discover this old Prussian town (Königsberg) I would have taken the chance.

    As for me, I tricycled from Dresden to Bruxelles this summer, I used GPS navigation by komoot.de (also komoot.com I think) – it worked very good (spoken navigation) – I do not want to miss it now… Do not hesitate to ask me for assistance if you consider to try out this navigation system. Herman joined it as well. Alexander from Ukulelestan…

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