It may come as a bit of a shock if you are coming into St. Petersburg after arriving by Cruise Ship.
Our first views were of blocks and blocks of Communist housing, and to tell you the truth, they looked terrible! Dull, grey concrete, surrounded by high grass and terrible roads, we were wondering what we were going to see!
This looked like the norm, as in our day in St. Petersburg we probably saw a hundred blocks or more of this type of housing, many with washing hanging out the windows!
Then we came to the rich Palaces, what a difference between the two!Related to:
The St Petersburg Emblem
The original version of the St Petersburg emblem was the standard of the St Petersburg Regiment, designed in 1724 by the Count de Santi Fransico. It was adopted as the city's flag in 1730 at which time it bore the Imperial crown as well as the twin anchors (a sea anchor on the left and a river anchor on the right) and the gold sceptre with its two-headed eagle.
After the 1917 revolution the emblem, with its imperial connotations, was effectively banned.
It was reinstated as the city flag in 1991 when the city became St Petersburg again, but now without the Imperial crown.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Historical Travel
Hawkers On The Metro
The St Petersburg Metro is a delight to use. It's cheap, fast, immaculately clean and perfectly safe. The stations are uncluttered, easy to navigate, and are often ornately decorated.
One thing I did note in the stations was a total lack of "street" vendors or buskers. It seems that these are forbidden by the Metro regulations, as are eating and drinking. However the more enterprising hawkers simply set-up their stalls on the train carriages going through their sales pitches whilst keeping a wary eye out for patrolling police.
The guy pictured was selling malleable rubber toys which he was entertainingly demonstrating - note the microphone which is attached to a small speaker so that everybody in the carriage could hear his commentary. Judging by the lack of interest from my fellow passengers this must be a fairly regular occurrence.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Money, Exchange rates, Banks
The Russian currency is Rouble (RUR) - 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 5000 RUR as banknotes and 1, 2, 5 and 10 RUR as coins. The change coin is Kopeyka - we have 1, 5, 10, 50 kopeek coins (1 and 5 kopeek are not in wide use 'cause of prices for services and goods usually do not include it).
For Novemeber 2013 the currency rate is RUR 32-33 for USD (Dollar of USA) and RUR 44-44.50 for EUR (Euro). The rate could change to May of 2014 and information about rates will be correct closer to the meeting
The debt/credit cards are widely excepted in the city (the most common systems are Visa and MasterCard, PayPal and American Express are in use as well). ATM machines are everywhere (as usually, better to use them within bank offices but not in the open air of shopping malls, metro stations, etc.).The city has many banks offices, mostly in central part of the city of course, where you may change the currency too (USD and EUR are widely accepted). Banks has a right to appoint their own currency exchange rate but it fluctuates in +/-1% to the official exchange rate by Central Bank or Russia. Many international banks have the offices (=ATM) in the city like Citibank, Raiffeisen bank, OTP bank, Bank Intesa, Kredit Evropa Bank, Societe-General-Rosbank Group, Unicredit Bank.
Never fear... it is unlikely you are ever going to be caught short. There are public loos all over St. Petersburg. You just need some lose coins and you will be ok. Actually, they toilets are mostly kept clean and there is always a lady on hand, tending to their care.
Unfortunately, you still need a visa for travelling to Russia. The most common visa is the tourist visa. If you are on a package tour most formalities are sorted out for you by the travel agency.
If you are an independent traveller you firstly need an invitation letter from a prebooked accomodation. With this invitation you can apply for the visa at your local embassy.
On arrival in Russia you should get an Immigration Card and if you plan to stay more than 3 days you finally need a registration in Russia.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Unfortunately, you won't find many public toilets (tualet or WC) in the big cities of Russia. Around the main tourists sights there are always a few chemical toilets which can be used for a small charge of 5 or 10 Rubles. Of course you won't find a sink there.
So one of the best options for toilets still is Mc Donalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Both have a few branches all over the town, especially along Nevsky Prospekt. Apart from that, I have heard that it is widely accepted to use the toilets of restaurants or cafes even when you aren't a customer.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Don't step on the lawn !
We had a local private guide, a very nice girl of about twenty. She had her own strong opinions about everything, including refusal to turn off her cellphone when required.
But she was very careful never to step on a lawn. Once we walked through a park, not a well kept one, and there were workers re-surfacing the gravel path. She stopped in front of the workers and didn't know what to do, and said that we have to go round the block. The idea didn't occur to her of stepping on the lawn around the work area, but when she was convinced at last that there was no alternative, she reacted as if she had to jump over a crevasse, or eat something disgusting and forbidden.
I noticed that there weren't people sitting or lying on the lawn, though there was a heat wave. Maybe the winter snows ruin the grass every year, and its new growth is so respected.
The BBC reports that on November 4th Russians celebrated
"Unity Day.(or National unity day, Russian: День народного единства),
first celebrated in 2005, commemorates the popular uprising
which ejected the Polish-Lithuanian occupying force from Moscow
in November of 1612, and more generally the end of the
Time of Troubles and foreign intervention in Russia.
" The Beeb explains: "The Day of People's Unity was created last year
after the parliament scrapped the 7 November public holiday
marking the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. The new 4 November
holiday marks the end of Polish occupation in 1612. Moscow's
liberation from Polish invaders was achieved in 1612 by a volunteer
army raised by a prince and a merchant from the city of Nizhny
Novgorod." According to the Beeb, not only do "polls show only
8% could name the new holiday, while more than 60% opposed
dropping Revolution Day" but the new holiday was seized upon
last year by racist fanatics to launch public
demonstrations against foreigners in Russia.
Peter The Great
I just wanted to talk a bit about our great emperor Peter I, since it was his vision and passion that created the city...
Born on the 9th of June 1672 (Gemini like me), the healthiest of other 13 sublings, he was put on the trone at the age of 10, sharing the country with his mentally ill brother Ivan. The real power however belonged to his elder and very smart sister Sofya (25 years old) who was in control of all Russia for 7 years (she was forced to become a nun later and spent the rest of her days in the monastery, died at the early age of 47).
Peter`s childhood was spent outside of Moscow, in the village of Preobrazenskoe. There he absorbed European ideas (mostly in the nearest German-founded village) instead of those antiquated notions of Kremlin. From early on he showed a lot of interest in the military and marine studies and was really good at it!
At the age of 17 Peter got married under the pressure of his mum. It lasted for 9 years and then he sent his unwanted wife to the monastery (yeah, a good way to get rid of people) and got re-married to his German lover.
In the 90s Peter started thinking about getting some sea exits for his country cause oddly enough Russian had none at that time. He succeeded 25 years later when defeating Sweden.
In 1703 Peter founded his beloved StP and in 1712 the city was called the capital of Russia.
He died at the age of 53 after impulsively jumping in cold waters of Finnish Gulf (to save passengers from a shipwreck) and catching a cold later, in 1725.
Peter was an extraodinary man: knew dozens of crafts and subjects (like navigation, blacksmith`s, carpenter`s, ship building, etc); could just eat bread and onion for dinner; was extremly strong even though he did not look like much (I mean he was tall, yes, but really thin, not mascular at all); loved teeth extraction (you were better off to keep you mouth shut around him and not complain about having a toothache, cause he would immediately come and pull that sucker out).
Beautiful Russian Girls
This is my friend Val, along with Katya and Natalia. Aren't they cute! One real eye-opener for me when I visited Russia is that the women are very appearance-oriented. You will often see them dressed up, walking around in high-heels and never without make-up or their hair done! Growing up during the cold war, I was always lead to believe that Russian women were big and hulking, whose only accessory was a scarf tied tightly around their faces! At least that's how they were portrayed in the media. Quite the contrary, as you can see!
Here's a girl I met on my trip named Mosha. She epitomizes the term "carpe diem!" As we were walking down the street, she suddenly decided to get her tongue pierced. She just walked into a salon and had some guy do it! Then the rest of the evening she kept turning to me, sticking out her tongue and asking in English, "Is beautiful, no?" I got a real kick out of her!
I remember hearing in the early '90s about young Russian women trying to meet American men so that they could marry them and move to the United States. I don't know if that kind of thing still happens or if this sign is advertising that kind of service, but we thought it was funny, because when I first met my friend Val, I couldn't remember her name, so I kept calling her "Svetlana" - one of the only Russian names I knew. I saw this sign outside a building when we were walking around and said to Val, "Hey, Svetlana! Why not pose by this sign for me!" I guess it's kind of our little inside joke, but doesn't she look like a cute Russian princess in this picture?
Here is an example of some old, soviet-era propaganda posters. I saw these hanging up in a restaurant. They are kistchy and fun, and it's kind of nice to see that the Russian people can have a sense of humor about the past. You can find reproductions of many of these posters in bookstores around town. They make great, inexpensive souveniers for your friends back home!
Tea and Cookies
This is a table set up at a restaurant we visited. Doesn't it look inviting? The waitress was getting ready to serve a large group of people some after-dinner tea. The round cookies are classic Russian and are very hard. You are supposed to soften them up with the tea, much like we in the U.S. might dip biscotti into coffee.
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