After an uneventful weekend in Vladimir where I was consumed by homesickness, I took an 11 hour ride on a sleeper train where I actually managed to get a good night’s sleep. The Russian train system is impeccable and a great way to see the countryside between destinations.
When I stepped onto the train, I freaked out (what else is new?) when I found 2 seats and a table next to a window realizing one of those seats was for me. After hitting a mentally low point at the train station, here I thought I’d have to spend the next 11 hours barely asleep in a seated position with my head on the table making everyone around me uncomfortable. Little did I know that the table folded down to form a bed.
Once I learned of this, I scrambled to get cozy, hit the bed, and was gone both from the Vladimir train station and reality. Having slept really well for a majority of the journey, I awoke the next morning at 6am with 3.5 hours left to go. I settled in with my kindle and John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” for the remainder of the trip, and by the time we had arrived at St. Petersburg’s Moskovsky rail station, I finished the book.
As I stepped onto the platform to make my way to the hostel, I felt like I could breathe again. There was something that made me feel like I knew that I was going to have a far better time than in Moscow.
After a 3-day diet in Vladimir of bread, cookies, and water, I walked into an Italian restaurant down the street from my hostel for a pasta and salad feast. Of course, the likes of One Direction, Panic at the Disco, and Gym Class Heroes were playing inside the restaurant. That’s how I knew I was home.
Change of Pace
St Petersburg is a complete 180 from Moscow. The people are friendlier, they actually smile, the city is well equipped for tourists with so much to see and do, more people speak or at least understand English, and a majority of the restaurants have menus translated in English. If you choose to visit both Moscow and St Petersburg during your visit to Russia, start with Moscow because St. Pete will be a much easier and more relaxing way to end your trip.
The city is like going back in time with authentic European architecture everywhere. Every street looks like a box of macaroons. Each building is so colorful, unique, and delicious in their own way. From afar, they look delicate to the taste, or in this case, touch.
In the city center, especially, there are a lot of yellow buildings. One theory says it’s because yellow is the cheapest paint color, and the other theory is that it’s to make the city brighter because they only don’t have many sunny days during the year.
On my first day, I went to the Hermitage, and before I even went in, I cried as I walked down Nevisky Prospect and through the courtyard to the Winter Palace. It was one of many moments where I realized such beautiful places and people exist all around the world and many will never get to see or meet them because of the fear that holds them back.
For example, in front of the Admirality sits a gorgeous fountain, and when I visited, there were intricately painted bear statues, one representing each major country.
The metro isn’t nearly as overwhelming as Moscow’s because the signs have English translations so it’s one less thing to worry about. There are only 5 lines all of which are color coded and just as efficient as Moscow’s metro, but aren’t nearly as decorative.
It costs 27 roubles per ride, and you can either buy a pass or the cashier will typically give you tokens to use. The first time I paid to ride the metro, I was confused because at first glance I thought the woman had given me a bunch of change and failed to give me a pass. As a clueless American, she had to explain to me in broken English that my tokens were the key to riding the trains.
I had the opportunity to hang out with a couchsurfer I met through a mutual friend. She made me dinner at her apartment, and I got a peek into the life of a local. It’s always interesting to see the way other people live.
In terms of apartments in St. Pete, compared to American standards, they are very small, but it’s the perfect amount of space. It’s comfortable without being too extravagant or lavish. They live much simpler lives without things we might consider luxuries like garbage disposals, electric stoves, or overhead lights.
Some 300,000 people even still live in communal flats where they have their own bedrooms, but they share one kitchen and one bathroom with up to 10-15 people.
Fun Fact: Ladies, you know how much pain you feel after wearing heels for too long that you can’t wait to switch to flats? Well, the opposite is true for Russian women. I already told you they love their high-heeled stilettos. As it turns out, heels are like tennis shoes to them. They slip them on and go. If they wear any kind of flats for too long, their feet hurt as much as ours do when we where heels.
Things to do
- Spend a day at the Hermitage, General Staff building, and Admiralty
- Go to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral for a view of the city
- Peter & Paul’s Fortress
- Savior of Spilled Blood Cathedral
- Take a walking tour that shuffles you through the courtyards and alleyways
- Boat tour
- Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace in Pushkin
- Victory Park
- Peterhof, Peter & Paul’s Cathedral
- Summer Gardens
- Ride the metro to random stops, get out, and explore
- Take a walk along the canals
Places to Eat
- Rada and K
- Café Botanica
- Any of the cafes on Nevisky Prospect or around town
- Coffeeshop Company
- Fresh Point
On Nevisky Prospect alone, you’ll have a lot to choose from so it’s hard to go hungry, and food is reasonably priced if not cheap. Do not eat at McDonalds, KFC, or Pizza Hut. You did not make the trek to Russia just to eat the same foods you have at home. One more thing to admire about St. Pete is that there isn’t a Starbucks in sight.
So after a rough start in Russia, I found my sweet relief in St. Petersburg. The city really won me over and was a wonderful way to end my time in Russia.