Snowy Days in Saint Petersburg
Russia. The country my grandmother had immigrated from after WWII. The country that my mother had visited on numerous occasions during communist times. The country that I had heard so much about yet knew so little about. The country that was my dream travel destination.
During a cold winter in Iceland I decided to plan to make a dream come true. I planned a journey on the Trans-Siberian railway.
My first stop was the imperial capital of Russia: Saint Petersburg.
The second-largest city in Russia that was once a swamp has been transformed into a reminiscent display of aristocratic opulence surrounded by the tarnished ruins of communism. This ‘Paris of Russia’ is as grand as the jewel capitals of central and western Europe. Adorned with grand palaces, statues, waterways and bridges it is easy to find yourself in another time period. It is easy to picture a time when czars and dukes strolled the pristine promenades of town that still stand tall housing the grand and colourful architectural beauty of a different time.
Saint Petersburg is a city that is home to two of the world’s greatest art museums and some of the most impressive Orthodox churches I have ever laid eyes on.
The historically city is now home to a buzzing underground art and music scene, that gives you the feeling that there are great things in the making in every small crack of the city – which is just waiting for the perfect moment to erupt into a new era of glory.
I arrived late on a cold February night after a far too long layover in one of the most boring airports in the world (sorry Minsk). I was soon in a ‘dodgy’ cab being lectured by my very kind dodgy cab driver about how unsafe dodgy cabs are and that I should never take one again and if I have any trouble in Russia I must call him and he will help me.
Leaving with his phone number I found my extremely funky capsule hostel in a complex of cool art-scene buildings with the help of two local men who insisted on carrying my bags up the stairs. We passed by galleries, funky beauty salons, designer stores and a coffee shop that charges you on time spent inside rather than what you actually consume and we soon found the hostel.
Although none of the staff (or guests for that matter) spoke any English I managed to check in to my cozy ‘pod’ and crashed for the night (after kindly declining a sheesha session with the staff I could hardly communicate with).
The next day I was reunited with an Aussie friend who I had recently been teaching English with in Poland and after a few awkward encounters with hostel staff and guests we hit the town.
I was in awe of everything. Having done minimal research before my arrival I really had no idea what to expect from this city I had dreamt about for so long. I was like a child in the world’s most magnificent candy store. Speechless as I set eyes on some of the city’s grandest architectural masterpieces.
We strolled around the snowy streets, peeked into magnificent-looking stores along the impressive main boulevard, walked (and slid) across the frozen waterways weaving through the city, laughed at ‘Russian strangeness’ (including police hovercrafts rounding up river-wandering pedestrians), whizzed around the metro system and, most importantly, admired the intense beauty of the exterior – and of course interior – of the Hermitage.
The next few days seemed to whizz by as I fell deeper and deeper in love with Saint Petersburg. Despite the cold chill from the intense Russian winter weather I was ablaze with joy from my first encounter with Russia.