Our first week-long holiday this year is one that has required an awful lot of planning. Hours of research, hours more attempting to learn a rather difficult language, plus a visit to London to be finger-printed for a visa. Our holidays aren't normally quite so challenging, but this isn't just any holiday; this is our first ever trip to Russia! And it's not just Tim and I travelling alone this time; joining us are my parents and my sister, Helen
The journey for Tim and I started this morning at around 4.45 when we left home to drive to Heathrow. I was quite looking forward to the journey, on the basis that it ought to feel significantly shorter than our journey to Gatwick last weekend, but unfortunately that turned out not to be the case. There had been some sort of accident on the M1, which resulted in traffic jams, lane closures and ultimately us having to leave the motorway entirely to circumvent it. And then when we finally got to the general vicinity of Heathrow, the SatNav failed to take us to the correct location for the airport parking, so we had some fun and games driving around in circles trying to locate it.
My family arrived at Heathrow ahead of us, having travelled down the night before, but we eventually all managed to meet up in Wetherspoons and have breakfast together before it was time to board our flight. Everything went remarkably smoothly with the flight, compared to the delay when we flew to Kiev last week. At over three hours it felt like quite a long flight to us, although the pilot referred to it as "a short hop to St Petersburg"! As we began to come in to land, we got our first view of the city and initial impressions were that it looks absolutely enormous!
We landed slightly ahead of schedule and got off the plane to go through passport control. This was the most nerve-wracking part of the day, waiting to see whether our visas were correct and we were actually going to be let in But in the end it was all really straightforward. We got our passports stamped, were given our immigration cards (which we mustn't lose if we want to be allowed out of the country again!) and then we were in. Phew!!!
We retrieved our bags without any problems and emerged into arrivals. St Petersburg airport is a bit outside the city and it isn't on a trainline, so we needed to catch a bus towards the nearest metro station. There was a bus waiting when we stepped outside, which was good, although we weren't 100% sure how we were supposed to buy tickets. There was a conductor lady who appeared to be selling them, so we assumed we needed to give her our money before we sat down, and it was all a bit difficult trying to hold our luggage, get some money out and figure out how much we needed to pay. Afterwards, we realised that we could just have got on and sat down and she would have come to sell us a ticket. Never mind!
The good news was that the fare was amazingly cheap at 40 rubles each, which translate to 48p! The less good news was that it turned out to be a bus without a luggage rack, so we had to balance our luggage in somewhat uncomfortable positions for the duration of the trip. Luckily, the journey turned out to be quicker than I'd expected and it can't have taken more than 20 minutes for us to get from the airport to the metro.
The metro was slightly more expensive at 45 rubles (54p!). We bought tokens from a machine and then made our way down to the platform. It was a very unusual metro station, in that you couldn't see the track at all from the platform; it was hidden away behind big metal doors, which opened once the train arrived. We had about five stops to travel on our first metro, after which we had to change to a different line and go another few stops before we got to the vicinity of our hotel. Considering it was our first day in Russia and we only had a vague idea of what we were supposed to be doing, it all went rather well
I'd tried to download an offline map of St Petersburg to help us navigate, but when I got my phone out it seemed to assume I wanted a map of a place called St Petersburg in Florida instead, which was a bit frustrating! Luckily it didn't matter, because there was a map on the wall of the metro station, and Tim and Dad managed to navigate us to the hotel using that.
The hotel is posher than we expected and comes complete with a slightly disconcerting porter, who insisted on carrying our bags for us. We managed to check in, half in Russian and half in English, and the porter led us to our rooms.
We definitely can't complain about how spacious this is; we've even got our own sofa! And all for less than £60/night
Once we'd unpacked and settled in, we went for an initial stroll into the town. The first interesting thing we came to as we left our hotel was this beautiful yellow church.
It turns out this is the Transfiguration Cathedral.
We didn't have to walk much further before we caught sight of another colourful church on the horizon.
I'm not sure what this one is called, but it was a really beautiful shade of red
We were walking in this direction because we wanted to get to the river.
Before we reached the main river Neva, we crossed over the smaller Fontanka river, which is a branch of the Neva.
The sides of the river were lined with pretty buildings...
...and the river itself was full of boats
We found ourselves in the Summer Garden, which was founded by Peter the Great.
It seemed like a lovely park, but it was really busy; there seemed to be some sort of festival for children going on.
We walked down a long avenue of trees...
...and admired the various statues we found on our way.
There were fountains too
Eventually, we emerged from the park and we were at the river
It was huge and looked really choppy; more like the sea!
Everyone was hungry by this point - and the porter had warned us against going out in the evening without coats - so we decided to retrace our steps back towards the hotel.
On the way, we passed Peter the Great's Summer Palace from the opposite side of the water.
We also got tantalising glimpses of all kinds of other interesting buildings in the distance. There will definitely be lots to explore tomorrow!
In the meantime, we all needed an early night. But not before we'd had dinner in the hotel restaurant. It turned out to be unbelievably good value; five of us had a main course and a drink for the equivalent of £30 I'm sure we will find ourselves in more expensive places over the course of the next week, but at about £1 each for transport and £6 each for food, today has been a very cheap day!