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  1. Clare

    Day 8: Moscow

    After our big day of travelling yesterday, we decided to have a more leisurely start to today. We arranged to meet for breakfast at 9am, although I ended up being slightly late because I was trying to write up yesterday's blog, and then we agreed to leave the hotel at 10.15 and head straight to Red Square in the hope of being able to see Lenin. From the sign we'd seen on Thursday, we understood that the mausoleum was going to be open between 10am and 1pm on Saturday. We caught the metro to Okhotny Ryad and probably got the world's best view from a metro station as we walked up the stairs to exit. When we saw how close to Red Square the metro was, we felt a bit silly for not having been able to find it on Thursday. But it really wasn't obvious - we had emerged from an underpass which had no red "M" sign on it or any other indication that it was leading to a metro. It was busy in Red Square this morning with more tour groups than there had been earlier in the week, but for some reason there weren't any security bag checks to go through today. There had been a book fair in the square on Thursday, so maybe that had required increased security. It was great to be in the square again. And, of course, brilliant to get another opportunity to see St Basil's. Unfortunately, when we got to the place where we were expecting the queue to start for the mausoleum, the gates were closed. There were lots of other tourists standing around looking confused. We overheard one of the guards saying that the mausoleum was closed today. What a shame We got to see it from the outside anyway, and then we had more time to enjoy the views of St Basil's. Helen suggested that we walk around the side of it, which was a really good idea because we got to see this beautiful pink and white dome which we hadn't noticed the other day. All the famous pictures of the church are taken from the other side, but it's actually really pretty from the back too And as we got further away we could see both the blue and pink domes We walked away from St Basil's and past a succession of other, smaller churches. I don't know what the bright red one is called, but it was a really striking colour. We were heading towards Moscow's newest park: Park Zaryadye. As we began to climb up through it, we got some wonderful views back towards St Basil's. It was a struggle to keep my eyes open with the really bright sunlight, hence me looking a bit startled in this photo Tim somehow managed to keep his open! The views of the entire Kremlin were great from here too. We could also see down towards some of the churches we'd just walked past. The park, which was built on the site of a former Soviet hotel, has a "floating bridge" which extends out over the Moscow river. From here we were able to look out across the river and see some of the sights we'd noticed on our boat trip the other day. We could also see the other way, towards the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour with its huge golden dome. The bridge was quite busy with tour groups, but other parts of the park were quite peaceful. I only realised when we were partway around it that the vegetation was divided into different zones, I think representing different regions of Russia. Overall it was a really fun park to explore, and much bigger than I expected when I'd seen it from the boat the other day. Our second plan for the day was a slightly unusual one: a tour of some of Moscow's most impressive metro stations. This was something we'd read about in the Lonely Planet Moscow book and deliberately saved for Saturday in the hope that the metro would be less busy then. Mom and Helen had taken notes of a route for us to follow, which started at the Komsomolskaya metro station. This was a really grand station, with some impressive pillars at platform level. The station is named after youth workers who helped with the construction of it. You can see the Komsomol emblem at the top of the pillars. As we walked through the interchange between one line and another, there were also some very pretty tiled pillars. We passed a military-looking decoration on the wall... ...walked down a lovely tiled corridor... ...and emerged onto an absolutely beautiful platform for the circle line. It looked more like a museum than a metro station! At the end of the platform we even found a little bust of Lenin From this station we got onto the circle line and travelled one stop to our next destination: Prospekt Mira. The guidebook told us that this station would feature porcelain depictions of people planting trees, bringing in the harvest and generally living in harmony. That did indeed seem to be the case. Another stop further on took us to Novoslobodskaya. The highlight of this station was a mosaic called "Peace in the whole world". The white doves in the mosaic have been added in later, replacing what was formerly a portrait of Stalin. The other beautiful thing about this metro station was the stained glass. The walls of the tunnel between the platform were lined with these colourful stained glass panels. There were too many to take pictures of them all, so we had to pick our favourites From Novoslobodskaya we travelled one more stop to Belorusskaya. Just the platform itself was impressive at this station! In the passage outside, the ceiling panels depicted different scenes relating to Belarus. Again, there were too many to take a photo of so we had to pick our favourites At this station we had to leave the brown circle line and switch to the green line. As we were travelling between different parts of the station, we passed this rather imposing sculpture. It was amazing to see how in this part of the station, even the lights and pipes were decorated with patterns. A little bit blurry, but our first stop on the green line was Mayakovskaya. The guidebook seemed to think this was the metro station to end all metro stations, but it wasn't my favourite overall. There were some cool features, like these little stars and hammer and sickles which were decorating the light fittings. The ceiling also featured little mosaics, which seemed to be depicting military themes. Some of them were a bit dark so it was hard to make out what they were. From Mayakovskaya we skipped a stop and went two stops down to Teatralnaya. The porcelain figures which decorate this station depict people from other Soviet republics wearing their national dress. The overall effect was quite grand Our next stop was a very exciting one: Ploshchad Revolyutsii. This station is full of sculptures which depict the different roles people played in the revolution. Some of them were quite scary-looking characters! This was definitely the station with the best statues Moving on again, we came to Arbatskaya. This station was described as having a baroque atmosphere. It did indeed have a rather elegant feel. We were getting towards the end of our tour now. The next destination was Kievskaya. This station was decorated with friezes of life in Ukraine. Lots and lots of friezes of life in Ukraine This seemed like quite a busy interchange station though, so we had to be careful not to get in people's way as we were taking our photos. There is a big fresco at the end of the hall which celebrates Russian-Ukrainian co-operation. As Tim and I had been in Kiev quite recently, this was exciting to see. We recognised the cathedral in the picture The final station on our tour was Park Pobedy. I've lost track of how many stations we visited, but this felt like excellent value for 55 rubles (67p). I was quite excited about getting to Park Pobedy, because apparently it has the longest escalators in the world. They certainly felt very long; I timed the journey up and it took approximately 5 minutes. Once we got to the top of the escalators, the exit walkway was decorated with a military mural. When we came up above ground, we found ourselves outside a triumphal arch, celebrating Russia's victory over Napoleon. On the other side of the road, we found a flower display spelling out the name of the city It was mid-afternoon by this point and everyone felt starving. My parents located a cafe just around the corner and we all sat down for some much-needed lunch. The weather wasn't great by this point and it was starting to spot with rain a bit. After lunch, Tim and I explored the park a bit while my family went to look for a post office. Park Pobedy, or Victory Park, was created in the 1960s as an open-air museum to commemorate Russia's victory over Napoleon. Since then it has been expanded to commemorate the Russian victory in WW2 also. There were some very impressive statues here. There were also a lot of fountains, although they weren't quite as impressive as the ones we'd seen at Peterhof In the distance we could also see a church with a huge golden dome. The rain started to get a bit stronger while we were walking around the park, so we headed back in the direction of the metro station. Before we set off back for the hotel, we stopped off to buy some souvenirs. I've never seen so many matroyshka dolls in one place When talking about the Park Pobedy metro station, the guidebook had said that there were enamel panels at both ends of the hall, depicting military victories in 1812 and 1945. We hadn't been able to locate either of them when we were coming out and going up the escalators, but on the way back down we found the 1812 one We also found another Lenin monument. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at a nearby cafe for a coffee. Well, I had an iced coffee and Tim had a beer Tim suggested that we order some cake as well and when it came it was absolutely massive! I had Prague cake again, which was extremely chocolatey. Tim had a Moscow cake, which we've never heard of before, but which seemed to involve nuts and red icing. It was a fun end to what had been a very busy day (and a very busy holiday!!)
  2. We had quite an adventure planned today, travelling to the small town of Suzdal which is approximately 150 miles east of Moscow. The guidebook advertised it as a day-trip from Moscow, but it's just about at the limit of the distance which you can do there and back in a day. Our journey was going to involve travelling to the nearby town of Vladimir by train, before attempting to catch a bus to Suzdal itself. The first step was to get to Moscow's Kursky train station. We left the hotel an hour before we needed to catch our train, but things still ended up being a little bit frantic when we couldn't find the entrance to the metro station we needed (only the exit!). We got there in the end, passed through the train station security and found our platform with a few minutes to spare. Boarding the train was a complicated process; we had bought tickets online in advance, so we had allocated seats in a specific carriage, but trying to find the correct carriage was a bit of a nightmare. In the end we realised that there were small signs with the carriage number stuck on a window in each carriage, but they weren't very prominent. Everyone who wanted to get on at that carriage had to join a queue to have their ID checked by the conductor and then be pointed in the direction of their seat. You have to give your ID number at the time of booking and then it seems like no one wants to see your actual ticket; the conductor was just typing the ID numbers into a little machine to check that we had a reservation. Eventually we got on and the train departed promptly. The journey from Moscow to Vladimir took around 1 hour 45 minutes on a Lastochka train, which only made one intermediate stop. As on our journey from St Petersburg the other day, the vast majority of the view which we saw consisted of forest. Russia definitely has a lot of trees We arrived in Vladimir around 11.15 and made our way to the bus station, which is helpfully situated just across the road from the train station. Neither building is particularly scenic. Once we were in the bus station, the next challenge was to buy tickets to Suzdal. The bus station had all manner of different counters, some of which seemed to be for buying specific types of tickets or tickets in specific directions. Unfortunately I couldn't understand what all the signs meant, so I chose a counter which I hoped said could be used to purchase all types of ticket and decided to give it a go. Luckily, in answer to my question as to whether it was possible to buy tickets to Suzdal here, the lady behind the counter said yes and sold me five. Phew The tickets turned out to be very good value once again, costing around 100 rubles each. We had just missed a bus at 11.30, so had been sold tickets for the next bus which was at 12.00. That meant we had some time to kill in the bus station, which was an interesting experience as it was lined with all manner of strange stalls selling everything from passport covers with the face of Putin to Transformers. The one thing they didn't sell was a spare screw for Helen's sunglasses, although she did look up the word and give it a try! The bus tickets had what looked like a seat number on them, though it wasn't 100% clear whether this was really a seat number or whether this was just the number of tickets which the lady had already sold for this bus. When the bus arrived, we joined the queue and decided to attempt to sit in our numbered seats anyway. It worked, although I'm still not sure whether this was luck or because everyone was really obeying the numbering system. The bus quickly became very crowded anyway, with more people joining at stops within Vladimir once we had left the bus station, and it was full to standing as we eventually made our way our of the town and onto the main road towards Suzdal. Vladimir felt like a big place and it took us a while to get to the outskirts of it, but we weren't actually sure how large it was. Having now looked it up, it turns out the population is around 345,000 which is indeed a significant size. Once we left the city behind, the views became much more scenic. We could see splashes of purple in lots of the fields that we passed through, but initially weren't sure what they were. Eventually we realised that they were wild lupins. How beautiful The journey to Suzdal took around 50 minutes. We arrived at the bus station and went inside to take a photo of the times for the return journey. The bus station is located about a mile outside of the main town but it's quite an easy walk, all along one main road. As we walked along, we got a view of our first church. The road was lined with beautiful wooden houses. Some were brightly coloured... ...some were more traditional... ...and some were really grand. We also passed some rather unusual floral displays housed in old tyres! As we got closer to the centre of the town, there was a children's play area with some rather spectacular wood carvings. And then we were in the centre of town, and could see the trading arcades and resurrection church. It was definitely lunch time by this point, so we decided to investigate the trading arcades to see whether we could find something to eat. We eventually settled on this restaurant, which was serving traditional Russian cuisine. Some of us had soup, others had pelmeni (Russian dumplings, a bit like ravioli). The thing I was most excited about though was the fact that Helen and I got an entire litre jug of cranberry juice to share Cranberry juice seems to be really popular over here! Once we'd eaten, we went out to explore Suzdal. The reason we wanted to come here is that it is one of the "Golden Ring" towns and also one of the oldest towns in Russia. The town avoided industrialisation because it wasn't on the railway, and so is still home to lots of churches and historic buildings. This red building is the Assumption Church. We went inside and I think it must have been the coolest place in Suzdal today It was absolutely baking outside and stepping into the church was like going into a fridge! We walked past a park, heading towards the Suzdal Kremlin. The Suzdal Kremlin dates from the 10th century. The most impressive building which is housed by the Kremlin walls is the Cathedral of the Nativity. The cathedral was originally constructed in the 11th century and today is a World Heritage Site. The blue roof with golden stars was absolutely stunning You can buy a ticket to go into the Kremlin, but today we didn't have time. Navigated by Helen, we pressed on through a field... ...and crossed a river. On the far side of the river was the main thing which we had come to see; the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life. It cost 400 rubles each (around £4.85) to buy a ticket to get into this open-air museum, which is home to examples of wooden architecture from all around the region. The first building which we saw when we entered was this absolutely stunning wooden church. That was the wooden Transfiguration Church and next to it was the equally beautiful wooden Resurrection Church. It was incredible that something so intricate had been built completely out of wood. The museum was also home to a couple of peasant houses which you could go inside to see what life would have been like for Russian peasants. There was one for a well-off peasant and one for a peasant that was less well off. The house for the well-off peasant in particular didn't look too bad, although I wouldn't have fancied sleeping on this bed-shelf right up by the ceiling! The thing which I was most excited about seeing was the wooden windmill! There was a map showing how many water mills and wind mills there had been in Suzdal. It looked like they had a lot of windmills in the past! We could definitely all have stayed in the museum longer, but Tim pointed out that we needed to start making tracks back towards the bus station if we wanted to catch the 5pm bus to Vladimir. And so we went back across the river and through fields to get back to the bus station. Tim and I went ahead to buy bus tickets and before too long we were sitting on the bus back to Vladimir. It wasn't as crowded as it had been on the journey out, but it was still extremely hot! When we arrived in Vladimir we had a slight problem as we weren't sure where the centre of the town was. We could see what looked like an enormous cathedral perched on the side of a hill and figured that the town must be in that direction. While my parents tried unsuccessfully to get a taxi, Tim and I began to climb up towards the cathedral. Our strategy was partly just to walk towards it and partly to follow the directions on my offline map. This led to us taking a very strange route, up some extremely steep steps which were overgrown with nettles and along some dirt tracks, before finally emerging at the top of the hill outside the cathedral. This is the Assumption Cathedral, which is also part of a World Heritage Site. Vladimir was one of the medieval capitals of Russia and a cathedral was originally built here in the 12th century. For over 300 years it was the biggest church in Russia, and it still looks pretty big today! The golden domes on the roof were absolutely beautiful We'd just got around to the front of the cathedral when my family rejoined us, having found a much more civilised route up the main road towards the town centre In front of the cathedral we found this cool "I love Vladimir" sign We didn't have loads of time in Vladimir before we needed to catch our train home, but there was one more thing I wanted to see. Tim and I raced off down the main street in search of the Golden Gate. The gate was constructed between 1158 and 1164 and survived the Mongol destruction of Vladimir in 1237. It was reconstructed in 1795 after being damaged in a fire. We rejoined the others, who had found a nice restaurant to get pizza. We all had time to eat, before heading back to the train station and setting off on the long journey back to Moscow. As we passed by a park outside the cathedral in Vladimir, I was slightly surprised to see a small child driving a toy tank On the way to the station we also passed another beautiful church... ...and this pretty yellow building which looked very official. It was a long journey home, but all in all we had a brilliant day It would have been nice to be able to spend longer in both Vladimir and Suzdal, but I'm really glad that we got to see at least part of them today
  3. Clare

    Day 6: Moscow

    We woke up this morning excited to explore Moscow... and also to explore the breakfast buffet of our new hotel It's smaller than the one in St Petersburg so the buffet wasn't quite so extensive, but it was still pretty good. There were proper pancakes, in addition to the unusual deep-fried ones. And the coffee was very nice once someone showed me how to use the machine! After spending some time consulting our Moscow guidebooks, we decided that we were close enough to Red Square to walk. We hadn't got very far from our hotel when we caught sight of this striking church. It turns out this is the Conception Convent. The doors were open so we decided to go inside. The views were even better from inside the walls. Tim had shorts on, so he stayed outside while the rest of us went into the church. We had dressed ourselves to look suitably modest The interior of the church was as beautiful as the exterior. It was decorated with all kinds of icons, although we struggled to work out who most of them were depicting. After this unexpected diversion, we continued on our route towards the river. We emerged opposite a huge statue of Peter the Great. From there we were able to stroll along the river for a while and, very excitingly, we got our first glimpse of the Kremlin. Before we went there we had something else we wanted to see, though: the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This is the tallest Orthodox church in the world and as we got closer to it, we could indeed see that it was enormous! If you think that the cathedral looks really new, that's because it is. There was an older church here, built during the 19th century, but it was destroyed by Stalin in 1931. Today's church was rebuilt on the same site between 1995 and 2000. While Tim waited outside on a shady bench, the rest of us ventured inside via this little door. We passed through security then ended up in what seemed to be a smaller chapel. From there, we followed signs which led us up a winding staircase and into the main cathedral. The inside was absolutely stunning, with beautiful paintings and more icons, but no pictures were allowed. Once we'd finished exploring the cathedral, we had to retrieve Tim. That took a while, as we came out of a different door from the one where we'd entered and had to figure out a way to get back down and round to where we'd started, which was complicated by the fact that there were some works going on outside the cathedral. We succeeded in the end, then made our way back across the main road. We were getting closer to the Kremlin! We needed to cross the main road again, but got stuck for a while because there seemed to have been an accident. The traffic police turned up to sort it out and eventually we managed to get across. The Kremlin walls were very imposing. We walked past a square with a huge statue. At the time we weren't sure who it was of, but it turns out to be a monument to Vladimir the Great. This is quite a new statue and was only erected in 2016. From there we walked into the Alexander Gardens, which stretch alongside the Kremlin walls. There were all kinds of things to see here. We think this monument was commemorating the 1812 war. We recognised the picture of the cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan which we'd been into in St Petersburg on Sunday As we strolled along we enjoyed wonderful views of the Kremlin towers. We found an obelisk, celebrating 300 years of the Romanov dynasty. Poignantly, the original was erected in 1914 by which point the dynasty wasn't going to last much longer. We liked this grotto, although we'd not sure what it was for. Helen and I climbed to the top and got some good views There was a row of monuments commemorating towns where battles took place during the Second World War. Coincidentally, considering I've just been to both places, the blocks for Kiev and Leningrad were right next to each other. From here we just had to pass through a security check and we were in Red Square. Most excitingly, we finally got our first glimpse of St Basil's Cathedral Once in the square, it was hard to know where to look first. In one direction we could see the historical museum... ...and in the other we could see the Kremlin and the cathedral. We also got a glimpse of this smaller pink church, which is the Kazan cathedral. One of the things we'd really wanted to do was see Lenin. We got to his mausoleum, which you can see to the right of the photo below, but couldn't see the way in. Eventually we figured out that we had to go all the way back to where we'd been at the entrance of the square and join a queue for another security check. Unfortunately, the mausoleum is only open until 1pm and at this point it was around 12.54. We got to the point where the queue started but the gates were closed and they weren't letting any more people in Never mind, maybe we can come back on Saturday! There was lots to see in the square, but St Basil's was definitely the thing I was most excited about It's such a beautiful building, and so unique! We all experimented with taking selfies We could have stood and admired the cathedral all day, but it was a very hot day and we were hungry, so we decided to go into the GUM department store. It was a really beautiful building, although all the shops seemed very posh. We ate at a canteen called Stolovaya 57. We had to join a long line to queue to get in, with a couple of aggressive ladies behind us who seemed intent on pushing in. Once we had trays we were able to pick from a very varied selection of food, some of which we could help ourselves to and some of which had to be served. Slightly bizarrely, the first food we came to were the deserts. I took a large slice of chocolate cake, just in case I didn't like any of the main courses But the main courses actually turned out to be really good and I ended up with one of the nicest chicken kievs I've ever eaten! There was no dill in it, which was a good start I had "macaroni" (actually penne!) with it, and a beautiful glass of cranberry juice. Our next challenge was to find our way out of GUM, which is easier said that done. There seem to be escalators going up, but only stairs going down. It was all a bit confusing. We found an exit in the end and emerged outside the pink cathedral. It looked really beautiful here, but we were suddenly in a bit of a rush because we'd booked tickets for a boat tour and there was a departure we'd wanted to catch at 3pm. We were looking for the metro station Okhotny Ryad and Helen managed to navigate us to approximately the right area, but we couldn't see the entrance to the metro anywhere. We were running around in different directions in the hope of spotting a red "M" somewhere. Mom asked a person who suggested it was to the left, so I suggested that she, Dad and Helen go on ahead to find it. Tim was out of sight at that point in time, but I was hoping that he'd return shortly and we could catch them up... He was quite a long way away though, so it took longer than I expected for us to be reunited and when he did return, it turned out that he'd also asked someone who had shown him a route through the shopping centre I was standing outside. So we decided to go that way, quickly bought tickets and got on the metro in record time, getting off a couple of stops down the line outside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. I phoned Helen to see where they were, hoping they might have beat us to the boat! Unfortunately, they'd been directed to a different metro station to the one we actually wanted and so were still on their way. We were going to have to give up on the 3pm boat! The good news was that there was another boat at 4pm so we all sat and had a drink while we waited for that. The boat felt rather old and rickety and had a very loud engine which meant that we didn't stand much chance of hearing the commentary. But we were able to buy drinks on board and sit and watch the views go by We passed the cathedral... ...and the Kremlin. From here we got a much better view of the churches inside the Kremlin walls We got to see St Basil's again... ...and we saw the new Park Zaryadye. We also saw this really unusual building, but I'm not sure what it was! The boat took us around in a circle, returning us to where we'd got on outside the cathedral. From there, we were able to walk back along the river towards our hotel, where we could relax a bit before going out again for dinner in the evening.
  4. Today has been a day of travelling! It was around 3am this morning before Tim and I got to bed and as a result I was rather tired this morning. I accidentally managed to dismiss rather than snooze my 08.30 alarm, with the result that we were slightly late for our prearranged 9am breakfast time. After enjoying the hotel's breakfast buffet for a final time, we went back to our rooms to pack and - in Tim's case - write up last night's blog. We checked out of the hotel around 11.30 and set off on the metro towards St Petersburg's Moskovsky railway station. After our issues with getting to the hydrofoil on Monday, we weren't taking any chances and left with plenty of time to spare. It wasn't actually that far away, and so we arrived with plenty of time to get through security and board our train. We were travelling on a train called the Nevsky Express, which covers the approximately 445 miles between St Petersburg and Moscow in around 4 hours. We had booked five seats out of six in a compartment and were pleasantly surprised when we found that a sixth person didn't turn up to claim the spare seat The train set off punctually and soon we were on our way, speeding through the suburbs of St Petersburg before emerging into the forested countryside. My impression from the views today is that there isn't a lot between St Petersburg and Moscow except trees Some aspects of the train journey were rather confusing. An official-looking lady came into our carriage and I assumed she wanted to check our tickets. But it turned out that she just wanted to tell us that a sandwich was included in our ticket and that we could buy tea and coffee from her. A bit later another lady turned up with the sandwiches. We all chose chicken, but I couldn't eat mine because of a combination of carrots, gherkins and mayonnaise! Luckily Mom had been out shopping in the morning and picked up some bread so I didn't starve We also got some free chocolate, which was a nice surprise, and it was great to be able to have a coffee, although it felt like we got served our hot drinks at one of the bumpiest parts of the journey. Tim and Helen ordered tea, which was served in these amazing Russian railway mugs. Tim was so impressed by his that he bought one The train was beautifully air-conditioned, so it felt like the journey passed quite quickly. Every so often there were gaps in the trees and we got glimpses of lakes and rivers. The train was mostly going too fast for us to see the names of the places we passed through but most of them looked quite small, with the exception of Tver. We arrived in Moscow right on schedule and then had to negotiate our way to the hotel. I had been dreading this slightly as I thought the metro would be dreadful in rush hour, but either we were going on a really unpopular route or rush hour starts later than I expected, because the journey turned out to be absolutely fine and we got seats with no problems. The Moscow metro is different to the ones in St Petersburg and Kiev in that it doesn't use a system of tokens. Instead, we bought cardboard tickets for a certain number of journeys out of a machine. It was 55 rubles (66p) per trip, which is more expensive than St Petersburg but still nothing compared to the minimum charge on the London Underground (which I think is about £2.40). We checked into the hotel and I was impressed by the size of my room As well as the bed, we've got a desk and sofa. By this point we were all tired and hungry so we set out to find food, eventually tracking down an Italian restaurant where we could get pizza. So far we haven't seen anything of Moscow, but we're looking forward to exploring after a good night's sleep tomorrow
  5. After our full day's adventure at Tsarskoe Selo and knowing that we're heading to Moscow tomorrow, you might have thought that our plans for the early hours of the morning were limited to being in bed, as they would be for sensible people. That wasn't the case for us; there was still more adventuring to get in and so at 23:20, Clare, Helen and I headed out of the hotel in the direction of the Fortanka to get on a boat. Not just any boat. This one was advertised as being romantic and featuring a saxophone player. In spite of that, we still chose to go because this was going to be a night-time cruise featuring the raising of the drawbridges! Because of Moscow's international status, it's easy not to be aware of quite how important St Petersburg is. It was the Empire's capital city until 1918, an important port on the Baltic Sea and Russia's Window to the West. Large ships need to travel through it, even though the bridges spanning the Neva and main canals aren't large enough to let them through. The solution involves a nightly process of raising 22 bridges across the city according to a timetable, allowing the larger ships a temporal and physical slot to pass through. It was the ceremonial raising of the drawbridges which we came to see. Leaving the hotel, we noticed that streetlights were on, although they didn't really need to be. St Petersburg is sufficiently northerly that there was still a fair bit of natural light even though the midnight hour was approaching. The red church we regularly pass was perfectly bright in spite of the time: The Fortanka presented a perfectly lovely sight too: We arrived at our ship with plenty of time to spare and were rewarded with even more spare time by the lady in the ticket office informing us that our boat, set to depart at 00:10, was no longer running. But that was alright because we had been moved to the 00:30 departure, so we sat at a little table for the next forty minutes or so as more people arrived. After boarding, we proved to be one of only three little groups to take a seat inside; everybody else was sitting on chairs on the deck, leaving us with the impression of having the room to ourselves: We were sitting at our corner table as the boat pulled off: We had 360-degree vision because of all the surrounding windows: But the best views were provided by popping up to the deck. I was quickly rewarded by the sight of the circus: What a beautiful building! Soon we had passed through a bridge and had left for Fortanka for the Neva: We were surrounded on both sides by illuminated grand buildings: We passed several familiar buildings, including the Winter Palace: And the Kunstkamera, the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography: We travelled as far as the Admiralty, and then turned back. Within a couple of minutes we were part of a fleet converged on a bridge, gently bobbing on the water whilst people lined the banks: And then music struck up and we were treated to the following spectacle: That was amazing! All too soon, we had passed under the bridge and were leaving it behind: The Winter Palace looked wonderful as we drifted past: Why were we drifting? So as not to get to the following bridge too early and miss it being raised! Soon we'd passed that too! There wasn't much of the journey left as we turned back down the Fortanka. Still enough time to grab some wine whilst the saxophonist continued his somewhat lonely vigil. Before long we'd disembarked. This was approaching 2am and the sun was on its way back! Human engineering ingenuity had presented us with some remarkable and memorable sights over the course of our evening, but Mother Nature had a trick in hand too. Look at this remarkable gradation in the sky, preceeding from a very deep blue to a pale dawn. You can't notice the difference between one strip of sky and the next but spanning from side to side, you see how intense the colour change is: And so began a totally relaxing stroll back to the hotel in the tourist-free early hours of the morning. Tomorrow we leave Saint Petersburg for Moscow!
  6. We spent a while this morning debating where we were going to go today, before finally deciding on Tsarskoe Selo. It felt like a potentially difficult place to get to, requiring several changes of public transport, but the town is home to the Catherine Palace, which was formerly a summer residence of the Russian tsars. We didn't want to go into the palace, but we knew it was surrounded by some beautiful grounds and we were keen to see those. After a bit of post-breakfast research, we decided to go for it and brave the public transport. The first step was to catch a metro to Pushkinskaya, which is next to St Petersburg's Vitebsky railway station. I didn't expect the station itself to be anything special, but it turned out to be absolutely beautiful inside This was the first railway station to be opened in Russia in 1837, and it still feels very grand. Buying tickets in the station could potentially be a confusing experience, because there are two places to buy them; one ticket hall sells tickets for long-distance trains, while the other sells tickets for the suburban trains. The research we'd done on the Internet paid off at this point, because I knew we needed to ignore the long distance counter and follow the signs for suburban trains. We were able to buy the tickets we needed from a machine, and a return fare to Tsarskoe Selo turned out to cost the bargain price of £1.14 each! The train we wanted to catch was already waiting on the platform, so we were able to get straight on board. It was good that we were there well ahead of the departure time, because it turned out to be an extremely popular route. The train itself was pretty basic, with hard wooden seats like yesterday's. And the journey itself was a rather surreal experience! We were only on the train for around 30 minutes, but in that time we had two separate people busking in the carriage and a man with a microphone who was trying to sell all manner of strange things from tape measures to rucksacks. No one else on the train seemed even remotely surprised by any of this, so I guess it was all perfectly normal! We got off the train around 11.30 and then it was time to negotiate our final bit of public transport: the bus. This was the part I was most worried about, because it felt like catching a bus when you don't know where you're going is something which has the potential to go a bit wrong. In the end it was fine though. The bus arrived almost immediately, the fare only cost 48p each and Helen had a list of the bus stops we were supposed to pass through, so we just about managed to get off in the right place, a few hundred metres away from the main entrance to the Catherine Palace. We knew we were on the right track when we caught sight of some golden domes on the horizon. We found the correct ticket booth and I managed to buy us tickets for the park. The lady was very nice and gave us all a free map; much better than Peterhof yesterday, where we only got a map because Mom bought a guidebook! Entrance to the park was another bargain at 150 rubles (£1.81). Although we hadn't come to go inside the palace, we had to admit that it looked beautiful from the outside. Slightly frustratingly, after having had quite a torturous journey to get here, we found that the area outside the palace was absolutely swarming with large groups on guided tours. But, once we turned our back on the palace and struck out into the gardens, things instantly became a lot quieter. We walked down tree-lined alleys, then crossed a little canal. This took us towards the hermitage pavilion. It was such a beautiful shade of blue We were able to walk all the way around it and peer in through the windows, getting glimpses of the equipment which was used to host dinner parties in days gone by. From here, we also had a view back towards the main palace. It was a baking hot day by this stage, so we were glad to soon get back onto some shadier paths. We were heading towards the park's main lake. We came to a brick tower which said it housed a restaurant and decided to investigate. Unfortunately, the menu wasn't great and seemed to involve a lot of trout. Mom, Dad and Helen bought some piroshki to eat from a stall instead. Unfortunately, they didn't have any meat ones left (only either cabbage, or chicken and mushroom). Tim and I didn't fancy either of those, so we set off to see whether we could find another restaurant instead. We had seen one signposted, so felt hopeful. Unfortunately, the hope turned out to be misplaced! The first restaurant we found was closed, the second one was only accessible if you left the park first, which we didn't want to do, and then when we walked halfway across the park to a third one, we found that was closed as well It looked like we needed to give up on the idea of lunch! We rejoined my family and began to explore a different bit of the park. There was an amazing display of tulips; it felt so unusual to be seeing them in June! This side of the park was really peaceful. In the distance we caught sight of a rather unusual building. This was labelled on the map as the Creaking Summerhouse. That wasn't the only strange monument round by the lake! We assume this one was a sort of grotto. This one was definitely a pyramid. And this one was a gothic gate. The most striking building was this one, which looked very much like a mosque. It turns out it was a Turkish bath, which had indeed been designed to look like a mosque. The reflection of the building in the water was beautiful We crossed the water via this lovely marble bridge. By this stage we'd walked around the majority of the park. We contemplated trying to take a ferry to the island in the middle of the lake, but no one seemed to be operating it from the side of the lake we were on. We carried on instead and soon we were back to where we had started, outside the main palace. From there, we had to repeat our journey in reverse order. First of all the bus to the station, then the train back to St Petersburg, and finally the metro. I had to buy us a new ticket for the train, because all the upcoming departures seemed to be for the "comfort" class of train which our tickets weren't valid on. When the train arrived, it did indeed seem to be more comfortable, with big upholstered seats and plenty of legroom We made it back to St Petersburg for around 5pm and so were early enough to miss the worst of rush hour on the metro. In the evening, we went out for a meal at the restaurant we'd eaten in on Sunday night which was really nice and really good value yet again. The only strange thing about Russian restaurants is that it doesn't seem to be normal to bring everyone's food out at the same time, with the result that when you're in a group, some people have almost finished eating their dinner before other people's has even arrived. Other than that it was good, and we have more excitement to look forward to this evening with a drawbridge boat tour... if we can manage to stay awake until midnight!!!
  7. We made an early start and were eating breakfast at 07.30 this morning, because we had a big day ahead of us. We were planning to visit the gardens at Peterhof, around 25 miles outside St Petersburg. There are various ways that you can get there, but we'd chosen what seemed the most fun: hydrofoil. We'd already booked our tickets online, reserving seats on the first hydrofoil of the day at 10am. The hope was that that would get us to our destination early enough to see the famous fountains being turned on at 11am. We left the hotel around 08.45 and walked to our local metro station, from where we were planning to travel to a station on the river close to where the hydrofoils depart. We'd got up so early that it felt like nothing could possibly go wrong... and then it did! The doors to the metro station were shut. How confusing! At first we thought that there must be another entrance somewhere and started walking around the building, hoping to find a second door. But there wasn't one, and when we eventually returned to where we had started, we realised that there was a sign outside the door saying it was going to be closed in the mornings for repairs. Oh dear! By the time we had figured all this out, we had about 50 minutes until our hydrofoil. We seemed to have three options: to jump in a taxi, to try and find the next nearest metro station and continue by metro, or to walk down to the river. We checked an offline map, which suggested that the walk was 48 minutes. Tim and I were confident that we could shave a few minutes off the predicted walking time, so decided that we would risk the walk. My family decided to try the next nearest metro station, and so we set off in opposite directions, hoping to see each other again at the boat. I was a little bit stressed about whether choosing to walk was the best decision and whether we were going to make it on time, but Tim was relaxed enough to take photos. In fairness, today was a good day for it because there was a beautiful blue sky behind all the buildings where there had been clouds yesterday. We crossed over the Fontanka river... ...jogged down an avenue of trees... ...got a glimpse of the amazing church from yesterday... ...and unexpectedly ended up outside the Winter Palace again. From there, it wasn't too far until the Admirality building, which was near where we needed to catch the hydrofoil. We arrived at the boat with 10 minutes to spare, but until we boarded we couldn't see whether the others had made it as well. I held by breath as we got onto the boat.... and found that they weren't there Never mind, there were still about eight minutes; maybe they would still turn up! We waited and waited but there was no sign. At the point the boat was due to depart I tried texting and calling, but there was no response. And then just as the hydrofoil started pulling out into the river, I got a text from my sister saying that they weren't going to make it So, Tim and I were accidentally off to Peterhof on our own! The hydrofoil sailed past the Winter Palace, and then past the Peter and Paul Fortress. After that, the scenery became more modern. We got a good view of the Lakhta Center, which - with 87 storeys - is apparently not only the tallest building in Russia, but also the tallest building in Europe After about 40 minutes, the hydrofoil arrived at Peterhof. Luckily the others had managed to get tickets for the next hydrofoil, which departed St Petersburg at 10.30, so we wouldn't have too long to wait for them. While they were still en route, we needed to get up to the top of the canal as soon as possible if we wanted to witness the fountains being turned on at 11am. We could soon see the Peterhof palace in the distance. The enormous set of fountains in front of it is known as the Grand Cascade. We weren't the only people who wanted to see the Grand Cascade being turned on, and the closer we got to it the busier it became. We eventually managed to find a space where we could watch by on the staircase along one side of the cascade. Then it was just a case of waiting until the water was turned on It seemed like we were waiting forever but it was only a couple of minutes and then the water started along with the music Wow! That was really impressive As soon as the show was over, people started to disperse a bit and we made our way back down along the canal towards the waterfront to wait for the next hydrofoil to come in. Within a few minutes we were all reunited, and we were able to have a more relaxed stroll back up along the canal together. It was still busy as we got closer to the palace, but not as bad as it had been. The palace at Peterhof was commissioned by Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century and designed to rival the palace of Versailles. The palace itself was closed today but that was fine by us, because we mainly wanted to explore the grounds. We started by climbing up the staircase beside the Grand Cascade. From here we had some amazing views. We were now able to look down on the Grand Cascade from above I got very excited when I realised we could see a rainbow in the water. It was also exciting to be able to see all the way back down the canal to the sea! Once we'd finished admiring the views, we carried on across the top of the cascade and onto what looked like it might be a quieter path. We walked around the edge of a pond... ...passed what was described on the map as a "memorable bench", although we suspect in reality it was supposed to be a "memorial bench".... ...and then emerged beside a colonnade. This was full of fountains too When we left there, we passed a surprising patch of tulips... ...then found another, smaller, cascade. We found ourselves beside a huge lake. There was a series of little white bridges to walk across to get to this white palace. We climbed up an embankment on the far side of the lake. From there, we could see back out across the Gulf of Finland. And, of course, we had a great view of the gardens, including the cascade on the opposite side of the lake. We stopped at a self-service restaurant, where we were able to try a variety of Russian food - including piroshki and kvass - for lunch. After we'd eaten, we crossed the canal to explore the opposite side of the Lower Park. There were lots of fountains here too We also found a statue of Peter the Great himself. Mom told us that he had installed "trick fountains" in the gardens, to catch and spray people unawares. Sure enough, we soon found one - and plenty of children waiting to try it out We passed the Sun Fountain... ...and found a pair of beautiful, marble fountains. They were below the final cascade, known as the Chessboard Cascade. We hung around here for a while, waiting to see another trick fountain which signs warned would be activated at 15.00. Some people had come well prepared to run through it After we'd seen the trick fountain alley, we began to climb back up towards the Upper Gardens. Unlike the Lower Park, which you have to buy a ticket for, the Upper Gardens are completely free. But if you exit the Lower Park to enter the Upper Gardens, you can't get back into the Lower Park without buying another ticket, which is why we'd left it until last. The Upper Gardens turned out to be flatter and more... gardeny There were some wonderful fountains here too, though. This one was particularly imposing Meanwhile this one was a little bit creepy! At least, if you don't like fish. Once we got to the far end of the Upper Gardens, we emerged out onto the main road in the town of Petergof. We knew there was a station here, called Novy Petergof, and we began to navigate our way towards that. It turned out to be a longer walk than expected! A system of suburban trains passes through the station, running into the Baltiysky station in the centre of St Petersburg. There were machines to purchase tickets at the station, but it was a bit confusing because we were trying to buy tickets on platform one, but the only timetable shown here was in the opposite direction to St Petersburg. I bought us tickets for the elektrichka train, which seemed an absolute bargain at 60 rubles each (72p!). However, when we eventually found the correct platform on the opposite side of the tracks, I realised that these tickets weren't valid on the next train arriving at 16.54 because it was a "lastochka" train. Not entirely sure what the difference is; it seems like the lastochka trains make fewer stops so are probably more expensive. The first train our tickets were valid on was 17.12, so we had to hang around until then. I experimented with an americano from the station coffee machine, which was once again a bargain at 35 rubles (42p!), but was very sugary. It helped pass the time until the train arrived anyway! The platform got quite busy, but when the train eventually did come we managed to manoeuvre our way on and get seats. It felt like it was quite an old train and the seats were very hard and wooden. It made its way very slowly towards St Petersburg, eventually arriving at the Baltiysky station around 6pm. After that, all that remain was a metro journey back to our hotel. It was rush hour though so the metro was a bit of a crush. We had done a lot of walking today so decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. There was a slightly confusing incident when we ordered a bottle of chardonnay and brought it to us, then reappeared a few minutes later to say that he couldn't sell it to us because it wasn't in the system. Several of us ordered chicken kievs, which felt like they should have been a safe bet food-wise, so it was slightly disappointing when it arrived to find there was more dill in it than garlic It was a slightly frustrating end to what has otherwise been a really lovely day!
  8. Today was our first proper day exploring St Petersburg. It started off with an exploration of the hotel breakfast buffet, which turned out to be for more extensive than any of us had anticipated. As well as the normal things you would expect, there was salty(!) porridge, pancakes which tasted somewhat like they had been deep fried, and an entire buffet table of cakes. It felt slightly unbelievable that so much breakfast was included in the price of our rooms, which already seem such good value! After breakfast we had time for a quick consultation of guidebooks and maps before we headed out to see the city. Unfortunately the weather wasn't forecast to be great today, so there was a somewhat cloudy sky behind the beautiful red church which we'd spotted yesterday. It was Sunday morning and we could hear the church bells ringing really loudly. Then we realised that we could actually see two men inside the bell tower ringing the bells! We stood watching them for ages It looked like really hard work! We passed all kinds of amazing churches and buildings as we carried on walking through the town. Sometimes we just couldn't work out what they were. This beautiful building, which we found while walking through a park, was the Russian Museum. We were headed towards one of St Petersburg's most iconic churches, the Church of The Saviour on Spilled Blood. Unfortunately part of it was under renovation, but it was still really stunning. The church was constructed on the spot where the Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by anarchists in 1881. The building ceased to be used as a church during the twentieth century, being used alternately as a morgue for those who died in the Siege of Leningrad, as a warehouse for potatoes and vegetables, and today as a museum. We were going to go inside, but either we were too early and it wasn't opened yet or it was being used for a church service because today was a Sunday. Either way, we couldn't get in and there was just a large queue in front of the closed ticket desks. It didn't matter though, when the exterior was so beautiful Unfortunately the weather started to take a turn for the worse at this point and things started to become a bit damp. We took shelter inside a bookshop in the very unusual building to the left of the fountain in the picture below. By the time we'd finished browsing books, the weather had cleared up a bit, but not completely. We found that we were close to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. As it was still raining a bit, we decided to go in and have a look. Because it was a Sunday morning there was a service ongoing, which was fascinating to see. There was lots of incense and singing and kissing of icons, and because there were no pews it felt quite anarchic, with people coming and going, walking around as they pleased. At least that meant it was easier for us not to be too conspicuous as tourists! The interior of the church was beautiful as well, but no photos were allowed. The day began to brighten up as we walked down Nevsky Prospect towards the Winter Palace. It was amazing to be standing in front of such a historic place On the opposite side of the square from the palace is the General Staff building, with its huge triumphal arch. The arch commemorates the Russian victory over Napoleonic France in 1812. We didn't want to go into the museum which the Winter Palace now houses today, but we were able to go a bit further into the courtyard where the ticket office is. It was really beautiful in there too The next item on our list after the palace was the Admiralty building. We walked through a small park until we found it, topped by this amazing gold spire. If we'd approached it from this direction with the fountain in front, the first view would have been even more impressive There was just one more thing we wanted to see before we went to get some lunch; the Bronze Horseman. This is the famous statue of Peter the Great, commissioned by Catherine the Great. By this point we were down by the river. As we were feeling hungry, we decided to walk back towards Nevsky Prospect. On the way, we got some great views of another huge church; St Isaac's Cathedral. We found a restaurant and sat down to have lunch, with varying degrees of success. I had some pasta, which was very nice, but other people ended up with soup which seemed to just be a bowl of water with vegetables in it. It was better than nothing, and soon we were off again, en route to a boat trip which we had booked for 3pm. We had some difficulty locating the exact part of the Fontanka river that the boat was supposed to be depart from. We asked a lady, who sent us off across a bridge to a boat on the opposite side of the river, only to be told there that we needed to go back across the bridge to where we'd started. We got there in the end, with a few minutes to spare before our boat set off The boat started off by cruising down the Fontanka, and we had some wonderful views of the buildings lining it Then the boat moved out onto the main Neva, and for a minute it was slightly scary as the river was so choppy. The boat couldn't do its full route today because the water level was too high for it to fit under all the bridges. We sailed past all kinds of interesting sights, helpfully explained to us by an English audioguide. One of the most spectacular things was definitely sailing past the Winter Palace It would have been nice to be here on a sunnier day, but the views were wonderful regardless. Too soon, we were back to where we had started! When we got off the boat, we had a tantalising view of a church with an amazing blue roof in the distance. We didn't get to the blue church, but on our way towards a metro station we did stumble across another church with beautiful golden onion domes. When we got to the metro, the station itself was quite impressive. And, of course, the escalators were very, very long! We'd taken the metro to Lenin Square, which is next to Finlandsky station. This is the station at which Lenin arrived back in Russia after his exile abroad, in order to take control of the Russian revolution. In front of the station there's a square with a huge statue of Lenin. While we were standing there, admiring the statue and the fountains, we were approached by a man who asked whether we wanted to join a Communist walking tour. We decided to give it a miss As we went back into the metro station to catch the train home, we found a mosaic of Lenin too. After a brief rest at the hotel, we went back out again in the evening to find something to eat. That proved to be a bit difficult, as there aren't loads of restaurants in the area around our hotel. Dad had googled and found a restaurant nearby on the internet, but we struggled to track in down and then when we eventually did, it looked like it was somewhere designed for people a bit younger and cooler than us. We were so hungry we decided to brave it anyway though and it was a good decision, because the food turned out to be really nice. Again, it seemed unbelievably cheap; we all had a main course and drinks, including a bottle of wine, for what worked out as just over £6 each It's been a very exciting. though somewhat tiring, first day in St Petersburg
  9. 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!
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