This post is about the events on 26.05.2008.
We were on the "Express" train from Bennäs to Helsinki first. They call it Express, but it's actually their oldest and slowest train. We had a sleeping compartment, which was a good thing, but we didn't sleep so much . . . the train is really noisy (lots of clattering on the rails and between the cars) and there's a lot of rocking on the track. Once in Helsinki, we had about half an hour before the train to St. Petersburg left, so we were able to take it nice and easy on the platform. The trip to St. P isn't very far, and there were not so many stops along the way, but the border crossing was the longest part. At the last stop in Finland, Russian officials boarded the train and started the passport control. In fact, they collected our passports. Then the train moved rather slowly through something like a surveillance zone . . . about 45 minutes. When we reached Russia, the first stop was in Vyborg where the train stopped for 20 minutes. Once the train started moving again, we got our passports back.
We finally arrived in St. P. a little after 2pm with 2 heavy suitcases and 2 heavy carry-ons. Our driver, Vlad, took us to our hotel, The Pushka Inn on the Moika River Embankment (very expensive mini-hotel, but really nice with a good location). After settling in, we went for a walk down Nevsky Prospect, looking for a currency exchange (the moving bank on the train didn't stop at our seats) and pharmacy (I needed some antihistamines after a sudden bad case of hay fever on the train - good thing the phrase book had "Do you have anything for allergies?" in Russian). Stefan and I were both feeling very tired as well as a bit dizzy and had shaky legs after 12 hours of rocking train motion.
We bought some souvenirs and then found a little Russian-European restaurant on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Moika. We were the only patrons in the place. I had some great Beef Stroganoff and Stefan had the Chicken Kiev, which he didn't really like. But, they served the most delicious garlic bread with our meal. Yummy!
The weather was sunny and really quite warm. While out walking we noticed how well the Russian people dress, especially the women. And the shoes . . . awesome, beautiful shoes . . . lots of stilletos . . . amazing how fast they can walk in them!
Stefan and I can't believe the changes in this city. It's so beautiful. Stefan was last here in 1987 and I was here in 1992. Those were not good times. The amazing architecture was the same, but the feeling on the street is completely different . . . and shopping experiences are nothing like they used to be.
One final comment before signing off . . . the traffic and drivers . . . unbelievable. I think the patience of the drivers here is amazing. The traffic jams are long and numerous, but people don't seem to lose their temper, they just wait their turn or for an opportunity to cut in . . . and we didn't see anybody yelling, cursing or making obscene gestures. Not one accident either, that we saw. Amazing.
The outskirts of St. Pete
Saint Petersburg: Sankt-Peterburg, Russian pronunciation: is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city's other names were Petrograd (1914–1924) and Leningrad (1924–1991). Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27 May, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art. Celebrating the 300th anniversary of its foundation, Saint Petersburg was selected as the main motif in a recent Finnish commemorative coin, the €10 Mannerheim and Saint Petersburg commemorative coin, minted in 2003. The reverse of the coin features a view of Saint Petersburg, with the Peter and Paul Fortress and its three turrets. In the coin the words "St. Petersburg 1703-2003" can be seen.