Wanderlust – Russia: Day 10 of 10

We had to wake up really early to catch our transfer to the Pulkovo Airport. Our first flight was to Paris (Charles de Gaulle Airport).

So far we have spent about 9 hours at the airport and we are boarding in about 3 hours for the flight to South Africa. We were hoping to see some new years celebrations from the sky but I doubt that we will.

Can you believe that Paris is colder than Russia?!? There is a thick layer of mist on the city. A lot of the flights were delayed because of poor visibility.

Our phones say that we have walked the following amount of steps during our vacation in Russia:

Husband (iPhone):

  • 22 Dec 2016: 5 070 steps (2.9 km)
  • 23 Dec 2016: 15 538 steps (8.6 km)
  • 24 Dec 2016: 18 236 steps (10.6 km)
  • 25 Dec 2016: 15 472 steps (9.5 km)
  • 26 Dec 2016: 20 125 steps (13.1 km)
  • 27 Dec 2016: 13 309 steps (7.5 km)
  • 28 Dec 2016: 15 162 steps (9.1 km)
  • 29 Dec 2016: 15 892 steps (9.5 km)
  • 30 Dec 2016: 16 412 steps (11.1 km)
  • 31 Dec 2016: 10 922 steps (6.2 km)
  • Total: 146 138 steps (88.1 km)

Me (Sony):

  • 22 Dec 2016: 2 294 steps (1.67 km)
  • 23 Dec 2016: 12 920 steps (9.35 km)
  • 24 Dec 2016: 14 874 steps (10.72 km)
  • 25 Dec 2016: 13 229 steps (9.59 km)
  • 26 Dec 2016: 20 916 steps (15.21 km)
  • 27 Dec 2016: 10 913 steps (7.89 km)
  • 28 Dec 2016: 13 421 steps (9.72 km)
  • 29 Dec 2016: 14 863 steps (10.82 km)
  • 30 Dec 2016: 14 926 steps (11,00 km)
  • 31 Dec 2016: 10 121 steps (7,60 km)
  • Total: 128 477 steps (93,57 km)

Taking the average between the two of us, we therefore walked a total of about 137 308 steps (approximately 90,8 km) during our 10 day adventure. Woohoo!! I did not know that we were capable of that figure!

    We learned the following random things about Russia:

    • You have to pay to go to any public toilet (except in restaurants and airports).
    • 95% of public toilets have a bad odor.
    • 85% of Russians do not understand English.
    • 77% of all my statistics are made up on the spot 😉
    • You have to have maps in both English and Russian.
    • It feels like Christmas is neverending because they start the festivities in December but only celebrate it in January.
    • An official day of mourning impacts everything. Plan to just relax on said day.
    • Russia has a lot of crows, everywhere. We were “counting crows” but we gave up 😉
    • Russian people do not always look friendly but they really are.
    • Prices are not fixed. Coffee prices in one shop can differ vastly from the next shop. It’s up to you whether your food bill will be high or not.
    • Try to use the Sapsan train between the two major cities.
    • People think you are being weird if you ask for milk with your tea.
    • iPhone 6 will switch off in cold weather.
    • 3 star hotels in Russia are like 4 star hotels in South Africa.
    • The Russian visa registration is not something you have to worry about. The onus lies on your host/hotel. 
    • Buying a local sim card for data is worth it.
    • Some people in Russia have little respect for a queue.

    Overall, it’s been a wonderful vacation. We are truly blessed to have had this opportunity. I cannot express how thankful I am towards God for it.

    Happy new year everyone! May it be a blessed one ***

    Wanderlust – Russia: Day 9 of 10

    This morning we took the suburban train to a small town called Pushkin. It is about 27 km from St Petersburg and only takes about half an hour of travel by train. We took the train from the Vitbesky railway station to the Tsarskoye Selo station.

    Pushkin is a very nice little town. Accordingly the people seem to be extra friendly. I’m so glad that we got the opportunity to visit it!

    The main tourist attraction in Pushkin is the Catherine Park and Catherine Palace, otherwise known as the Summer Palace. 

    The park is very beautiful – even in winter. Entrance to the park is only charged during summer.

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    The palace is magnificent and if I might add very shiny on the inside. It is detinitely worth the visit. The caretakers do a great job – we even had to wear brown slippers over our boots!

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    We had lunch in the town and then returned to St. Petersburg. 

    We then spent almost an hour in a post office just to get stamps.. We thought that we sometimes have a problem with service delivery in our country but this topped it by far! Luckily we were eventually helped.

    Our evening was spent packing since we have an early flight tomorrow and the transfer is picking us up at 6:00.  Good night all!

    Wanderlust – Russia: Day 8 of 10

    My husband is like a kid whenever he sees a zoo or aquarium. So obviously we had to go to the Planet Neptune Oceanarium as soon as he saw that it is close to our hotel. I must say that they truly have lots of weird and wonderful fish species. It was just a bit difficult to find the place. When walking around in Russia, make sure to have both an English and Russian version of a map with you..

    Thereafter, on our way to the closest metro station, we had to walk through a Christmas market. It was so nice and cheerful!

    We then took the metro to the station closest to Peter and Paul Fortress. This is considered to be the place where St. Petersburg was started. In the middle of the fortress is the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul.

    Walking back to the metro was really extremely cold. That was when we started dreaming of South Africa’s warm and sunny weather. It feels unreal that we’ll be walking around in shorts next week. It started snowing heavily while we were walking. We tried capturing it on photos but it is difficult – flash photography worked the best but does not really do it justice.

    We had dinner at a very nice pub called Shamrock Irish Bar. After the cold, they provided the best comfort food that we could think of: meatloaf and cottage pie with a Guinness and some cider on the side.
    We then did something that made me realise that dreams do come true: we watched The Nutcracker ballet in the Mariinsky Theatre. It is the same theatre where it premiered in 1892. The theatre is very beautiful and incomparable.

    Me being me, I enjoyed the music the most and paid a lot of attention to the orchestra. I was impressed by the fact that it had 4 french horn players!

    I enjoyed the ballet very much. It was most definitely worth it to attend. My husband managed to sneak a few photos of the dancers after it ended. These were the main characters.

    Wanderlust – Russia: Day 7 of 10

    Our first official day in St Petersburg was great! We did not really have a plan and decided to just relax and take it slow at first. It turned out to be quite eventful and we saw a lot of places and buildings that we wanted to see during our time here.

    We took a note out of the Eyewitness Travel Guide for Russia and started with a stroll along Nevskiy prospekt (prospekt means avenue). We thought that it would just be a nice walk along the busy street but soon realised that a lot of the big sites are either on or near this particular street. 

    St Petersburg has a big amount of interesting and beautitul buildings, monuments and statues. Overall it is much more picturesque and romantic when compared to Moscow. Have a scroll if you are interested:

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    First, we saw the Statue of Catherine the Great:

    We then saw the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan:

    The Admiralty which is situated next to the river, was originally built as a shipyard for Peter the Great’s navy. Today the Naval Engineering School occupies it. The gardens in front of the building proved to be quite slippery.

    Just a stone’s throw away from the Admiralty, lies St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It is one of the world’s largest cathedrals and can apparently be seen from across the city.

    The Bronze Horseman (a few meters in front of the cathedral) is a tribute to Peter the Great from Catherine the Great. His horse is standing on a snake which symbolises treason. The statue was named after a poem by Alexander Pushkin.

    The Bronze Horseman is overlooking the Bolshaya Neva river. It is quite wide but to our surprise, frozen.

    Thereafter, we saw the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum:

    In front of the abovementioned is a wide open area called the Palace Square. In the middle of this square is the Alexander Column. It is known as the world’s largest free-standing monument.

    It was around mid-day by the time that we saw all of the above, so we were pretty hungry. We then found a very nice and quant restaurant. It is called the Biblioteka, which is very close to the word for library in my home language, Afrikaans. Accordingly, it was decorated with books and book cases. The Biblioteka has 3 floors, with floor 1 being the café area, floor 2 the restaurant area and floor 3 the bar area. They had a very nice lunch special. I would definitely recommend a visit to the Biblioteka!

    After lunch, we took a detour from the main road and walked for about 10 minutes before stumbling upon the Church on Spilled Blood. It was built in the same place where Tsar Alexander II was assasinated. It looks very similar to St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow..

    Right next to the cathedral, is a park called the Mikhaylovskiy Garden. And within the grounds, the Russian Museum can be found.

    So, almost by accident, we discovered a lot of St. Petersburg in just one day! I can imagine that the parks, gardens and fountains look spectacular in the summer but it still is a big treat to be able to walk through snow!

    Wanderlust – Russia: Day 6 of 10

    This morning we had to say goodbye to Moscow. We went to the Red Square for one last peek at the beautiful buildings and then returned to our hotel to check out and rush to the Leningradskiy train station. We used Uber again.

    There was a lot of snowing yesterday so the roads and sidewalks were a mess. What should have been a short 25 minute ride, took us more than an hour. Unfortunately this caused us to miss our train by a few minutes. 

    It was very difficult to try and find out what we could do to get new tickets. The people really don’t understand English. Eventually a very nice lady helped us in her broken English. People in Russia are generally very friendly. Whenever they understand what you need or what your question is, they take time out of their own days to help you. 

    After buying new tickets, while waiting for the next train, we discovered a nice coffee shop on the station. Their tea cups were very interesting! 

    Insider tip: the souvenier shops at the Leningradskiy station are WAY cheaper than at any other place that we went into.

    We then took our train to St Petersburg. It’s called the Sapsan train and it is a high speed train which only takes 4 hours to travel between the 2 cities. It is very neat and luxurious. We were quite impressed.

    Another insider tip: it is a lot cheaper to buy the tickets online and ahead of time. Just don’t miss the train 😉

    St Petersburg is breathtakingly beatitul! The city surprised us with very big snowflakes. It is not as cold as what people said (when hearing that you are travelling from one to the next). People here are more skilled in English and some restaurants, bars and shops have English signs. It really is quite refreshing not to try to talk with your hands because someone actually understands you.

    Here is yet another insider tip: if you have an iPhone 6 it will die instantly when exposed to snow or very cold conditions (possibly other versions as well).

    The station in St Petersburg is quite spectacular:

    Here are a few pictures of our first look of St Petersburg:

    Wanderlust – Russia, Day 5 of 10

    I am so tired tonight because we walked very far. I think I am therefore going to write less and post more photos.

    The Red Square was closed today due to a mourning day in Russia. A tragedy happened during the weekend – our thoughts and prayers are with all the families. (Thanks Mom for letting us know – otherwise we would not have known because we don’t have access to English news channels). All visible flags were hanging half-mast today.

    Due to the closure we had to walk all the way around the outside of the Red Square. We saw the following just outside the Kremlin walls:

    All around the edges of the Red Square there was a very very big police presence. I was very scared. It’s not like we did anything wrong but I am very intimidated by a foreign country’s police force. First of all you don’t know all the local laws and how they are applied and then also you have the big hurdle of not being able to explain yourself or your behaviour in their native tongue. 

    The paths that we wanted to take were blocked everywhere by the police. So we kind of got lost. Okay, not kind of – we walked about 7km extra to our destination (up and down the same road trying to find a way).. And all along that 7km we saw police watching us. Really terrifying stuff. Obviously my imagination went overboard as well.. I think I watch too many movies.

    It was really cold today. According to the hotel the maximum was -1 and the minimum -2 (degrees Celcius). It felt way colder. Our 7km journey included a very long stretch next to a river. We were freezing by the time that we reached our destination, but we found a very small (but to us extra big) safe haven who saved our lives with coffee and tea.

    Our destination was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

    Afterwards we went for a joyride on the metro to see more of the beautiful stations. Apparently they had bomb threats in 3 stations but we did not see anything (thanks again Mom!). My sister-in-law did some research and found out that the following stations are the most spectacular (in any order):

    • Ploschad Revolyutsii (Площадь Революции)
    • Kurskaya (Курская)
    • Komsomolskaya (Комсомольской)
    • Novoslobodskaya (Новослободская)
    • Mayakovskaya (Маяковская)

    After a very long day, we finished of with a shot of Vodka – when in Rome,…  😉


    Wanderlust – Russia, Day 4 of 10

    Merry Christmas to all!! I hope you had a wonderful day and may God bless you all in abundance**

    Today was a very interesting day because the Russians only celebrate Christmas in January. So it was just an ordinary day for most people. We celebrated by having a special lunch at Kafé Pushkin. 

    Kafé Pushkin came highly recommended from Tripadvisor and I can now also say that I would recommend it. Expect fine dining and therefore you should also be prepared to pay a bit more than the average restaurant. It has a very nice atmosphere and the service is outstanding!

    We were a bit confused and worried about the dress code but I can now confirm that they do not have a dress code during the day except that you won’t be allowed in if you are wearing “sports boots” (which probably means sneakers or other sport shoes). In the evenings you should dress up.

    The days are so short in the winter that it felt like we spent the whole day eating. We had a reservation for 13:00 and left in the dark. It felt so weird but the reality is that the sun already starts to set between 15:00 and 16:00. 

    My favourite part of the afternoon – and it will always remain a fond memory – happened during the appetizers. My husband ordered a mushroom pie and they brought it in a very nice bread basket with a lid. We encouraged him to eat the basket because we thought that it was made of dough. He started eating it and after about two or three bites he complained to us that he was struggling to eat it. The waiter appeared and very kindly informed him that the basket is just for decoration purposes. You should have seen my husband’s face. It was so funny! I simply could not stop laughing. My husband just endured the laughing and to his credit he did not remind us that we were the ones who told him to eat it.

    After lunch we walked around and discovered Patriarch Ponds. The pond was solidly frozen and locals were skiing on it and making hockey fields to play on. It was quite special for me to see. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.

    We walked around for the remainder of the day and saw more parks full of festivities and winter wonderland themed decorations. Walking around Moscow happens so naturally since everything looks so beautiful, that you don’t notice how far you walk every day. We do keep our phones with us. So I’ll give an average step count at the end of our vacation. I wonder how many steps we’ll have taken by then..

    Merry Christmas!! ✨ 

    Wanderlust – Russia: Day 3 of 10

    I’d like to mention 2 essential apps for a trip to Russia:

    1. Google Translate – this app is awesome to put it mildly. You don’t need an active network connection to use it. Just make sure to download the required languages beforehand (in this case English and Russian). You are then able to type in words and sentences and get it translated instantly. Another feature is that you can take photos of signs or labels and highlight the parts that you want translated – this is very useful especially in a place like Moscow where only a handful of people understand English. Just a word of caution: it seems like the Russian people do not understand the Russian translation that the app gives when we showed it to them. But the app does give similar words in “English” alphabet and if you try to read words from that, they understand. 
    2. Uber – this app is very useful. We used it today. We selected the location where we wanted to go and then the app assigned a driver to us. Again we did not understand each other but we knew that we were safe and that the driver was taking us to the right place. 

    So today we moved to another hotel. The Russian architecture is beautiful! 

    And to our delight, we received a wonderful welcome gift from the hotel!

    We then walked to the Red Square. Along the way we saw a lot of festive sights.

    The Red Square was full of activities and of course the main tourist attractions like the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral.

    We also received a tip from a local resident to walk past the Red Square and then enjoy the view from a bridge just behind it. It was so cold but really worth it!

    We then ventured into the Gum shopping centre. It’s huge and quite busy as it is situated in the Red Square.

    On the way back to the hotel we were in awe of all the lights and the cheer. We even saw an ice skating show being performed in a random park! It was truly a wonderful Christmas Eve. We are so blessed to be able to experience all of this!

    Merry Christmas!! 

    Wanderlust – Russia: Day 2 of 10

    I woke up this morning with a headache. Turns out that the artificial heat in all the buildings is not welcomed by my body. It’s a bit of a sticky situation since I get to choose between artificial heat and extreme cold – there is no middleway. I think I’m going to turn down the aircon tonight and in exchange for that we get to snuggle with the duvet..

    Anyway, back to the adventure.

    I was not disappointed this morning when the sun finally appeared. The snow is beautiful!

    We went to the Cosmonautic Museum today. To get there we had to take the hotel provided shuttle to the nearby airport and then figure out where to find the bus that supposedly goes to our closest Metro station (Rechnoy Vokzal). We eventually found a kind lady in the airport that understood every tenth word that we said. (It’s amazing how little English is understood and spoken in this world city even though we hear just English music everywhere). She helped us by giving us a printed metro map in Russian. She gestured how to get to the bus and then she spent a while to let me practice how to say Rechnoy Vokzal. She really helped us a lot!

    We then found the bus, took the train and after jumping over to another train, we finally arrived at the station closest to the space museum (VDNKh). The few metro stations that we saw along the way looked very beautiful – they are works of art!

    Above the museum is quite a spectacular monument with a rocket at the top. What a sight!!

    (spot my husband at the very bottom of that monument – haha)

    The museum provided an overview of the race to space. It was fun to walk through it. South Africa is even represented by Mark Shuttleworth! You have to pay extra take in a camera and also to get an audio guide (I personally don’t think the guide is worth it since most ot the exhibitions have English summaries).

    And isn’t this traditional Russian doll in the astronaut suit cute?

    Afterwards we walked around in the area. We found a very nice park. It is called the All-Russian Exhibition Centre (VVTs).

    Other buildings in the area also provided interesting statues:

    Tomorrow we’ll be moving to an hotel closer to the city center. I cannot wait!

    Wanderlust – Russia: Day 1 of 10

    A dream came true for me today. I saw snow for the first time in my life!!

    My husband and I decided to have our very first white Christmas this year. This is quite significant since South Africa rarely gets snow and only in certain parts of the country. And so it happened that we packed our bags for Russia.

    I could not find any direct flights between Johannesburg and Moscow. So we had to travel via Amsterdam. We flew with KLM and it was an absolute pleasure. It seems that the Dutch are obsessed with their white and blue pottery artwork – I forgot what is called (anyone is welcome to please help me out of my oblivion). Edit: it is called Delftware or Delft pottery 🙂

    I was quite stressed about the transfer at Schiphol International Airport since we only had a little over 1 hour. I am now glad to say that it was not necessary to stress. There was ample time – we went through a book store, souvenir store and still had time to brush teeth and freshen up before boarding the second flight.

    And then we finally came to Moscow.. What a sight!! I am still overwhelmed with how beautiful the snow is! I cannot wait for tomorrow since I only saw it in the night (it was already dark when we landed at 17:00).

    Well, sweet dreams! And look out for day 2 of our Russian adventure.