Way back in Astrakhan we made the difficult decision to give up on our plan to ride the Pamir on this trip but to head North instead. We didn’t know what to expect of it, or how we would handle it all emotionally. When being forced by circumstances to give up on one of the main destinations of your trip, it is easy to get into a negative mood. It would be a shame though if that would get in the way of us experiencing other places in their own right. So instead of letting ourselves being sucked down an emotional drain, we try to focus on what lies ahead and enjoy the ride.
So far we haven’t regretted our decision. Crossing Russia, we saw beautiful and varied landscapes and were met with kindness and hospitality by its people. Latvia and Estonia were completely different. Their beauty was more… organised and structured. The Baltic countries immediately felt a lot more European and closer to home. But we’re not ready to go home yet! There’s still a big chunk of Russia to cross and the alluring wildness of Scandinavia is beckoning. So here we are on our way to Saint Petersburg. Another city that has been on our bucket list for quite some time and that now unexpectedly could become another highlight of our trip.
After saying goodbye (for now) to Luciano and Emanuela, we continue towards Saint Petersburg. Sofie found an AirBNB flat that is reasonably affordable and within walking distance of most of the interesting sights in the city center . So our first goal is to get into the city and find the place, which with the Russian way of using addresses is not always an easy job. Especially when confronted with a lot of one way streets and a gps that is not aware of it. In the Russian system you first need to find the correct street number, then figure out which building on that address you need (there are multiple), after which you can look for the correct flat. It takes us a few attempts but with a little help from our Russian SIM cards we meet up with the guy delivering the keys and get settled in. That is a polite way of the describing the usual explosion of clothes and gear that happens whenever stay somewhere for more than 1 night. We’ll be staying a few days in the city making the most of the washing machine in our little basement flat.
Lots of laundry also means lots of time to explore the city. We continue the tradition of joining a free walking tour. It is a great way to get a quick peak of all the interesting stuff and pick what we want to re-visit on our own later. This particular tour starts right in front of the Winter Palace, part of the Hermitage museum.
Our tour guide is quite knowledgeable and shares a lot of information on Peter the Great and the establishment of the city, the history of the winter palace and the Hermitage. Most of the stories are about what was probably Peter’s greatest achievement: the establishment of the Russian Navy. The Admiralty is almost as big as the palace and right around the corner.
The Museum has gradually expanded to pretty much every building around the square. One of the buildings has a large Greek style front with huge statues of Atlas carrying a large triangular pediment. Like in many places a suitable statue rubbing myth has been established to occupy tourists. In this case it is all about rubbing the left toe of an Atlas while looking him in the eye. Nobody seems sure about which Atlas in particular is the luck bringer, so better rub them all says our guide Vlad. Sofie believes one should be plenty, though. We’re convinced our share of bad luck lies behind us and it will be smooth sailing from now on.
After a pretty long walk with lots of stories about the tsar we are now walking down the Nevsky Prospect, arguably the most famous shopping street in Russia. Vlad points out a few more interesting places along the way and ends the tour at the metro station across the exquisitely decorated art nouveau Singer building. But not before inviting the tourists for a guided tour of the metro system tomorrow. Since we enjoyed today’s free walking tour so much, we decide it would be worth it paying for the tour tomorrow.
The next day, the weather is rather drab and we’re glad we will be spending most of it underground. On our way into the city, we notice a lot less tourists out on the streets. When passing the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, the queues are a lot shorter than yesterday as well and we take the opportunity for a peek inside.
We meet up again with our guide in front of the metro station. Although a few others had enrolled for the tour no-one else turns up. The continuous downpour must have discouraged them. But surely, for a tour that takes places entirely underground, such minor inconveniences shouldn’t matter. Oh well, this means we will be getting a private tour today!
The metro system in Saint Pete’s isn’t quite as impressive as the famous Moscow subway, but the various stations are still nicely decorated and kept immaculately clean. All of the ornaments celebrate the Soviet ideals for the working class. There’s obviously also a few statues and pictures of Lenin. Although most of the metro was built during Stalin’s dictatorship, all of his statues and pictures have been removed except one bas relief showing Stalin and Lenin together. But even Stalin could not ignore one man’s cultural legacy from before Soviet times: Pushkin. The people just would not have accepted the removal of his statue.
After saying goodbye to our guide Vlad, we’re back on Nevsky Prospect, in front of the Singer building. The Singer company has long ago abandoned it and now it houses a book store and a coffee bar. Our curiosity compels us to take a look inside. When we get to the bar on the second floor though, it is clear that the place is so popular we’d be waiting for an hour to even get a table. That is asking a little bit too much from our patience. We’ll have to settle for enjoying the place’s architecture and grab some coffee and food elsewhere.
Our stay in one of Russia’s cultural and historical highlights is way too short, but it at least gives us a really good excuse to return one day. Time to get back on the road.
We’ve left the warm and dry climate of the Middle East and southern Russia well behind us now and are heading into colder regions with much more fickle weather. Sofie’s Klim suit has had a few leaks ever since we were crossing Germany back in April and it has slowly gotten worse. So we’ll go shopping for some rain gear. She also needs some replacement luggage straps for her roll bag. With some online guidance from Michael, whom we had met at Motocamp, we identify a few shops that should be able to help us out.
Our first stop is WikiMoto. They don’t have any rain gear that fits Sofie, but I spot some braces to keep up my riding pants. I seem to have lost a little bit of weight on this trip. On top of that Sofie scores some free high quality straps from a recently uncrated BMW. The guys are super friendly and helpful. They won’t let us leave before adding our names and sticker to the “door of fame” in the work shop.
We eventually find some rain pants for Sofie in a large shopping mall that is dedicated to outdoor adventure and motorcycle shops. We’re ready for the arctic now!
In stead of taking the obvious route from Saint Petersburg into Finland, we decide to stay in Russia a bit longer to explore some of Karelia. Perhaps not all the way up to Murmansk, but we’ll see.