So we’re off – St Petersburg, Veliky Novgorod and Moscow
We’re finally doing it, stepping out of the everyday routine and heading for adventure. It took us a lot of time to muster up the courage, but when the decision was finally made, there was only one way to go – forward. And after a couple of weeks of holiday, general laziness and getting to know WordPress, we finally even have the blog up and running.
So what have we been doing? We rolled out of Helsinki a pretty Sunday morning in early May, heading for St Petersburg, where we spent a week getting a first taste of Russia. We were helped by extraordinary weather and a truly beautiful city, where we felt at home quite fast.
We were just on time to see the Victory Day celebrations – or more accurately, see people looking at the celebrations, as the whole city seemed to be competing for a spot next to the parades or in the trees providing the best views. We joined the busloads of Asian tourists at the Hermitage and the palace Tsarskoe Selo and spent a day navigating traffic jams and pedestrianized, small islands by bike. Did I forget to mention hockey? The culture shock was softened by the hordes of Finns, Hungarians, Slovaks and the like parading around town in hockey shirts. We were even lucky enough to see three Finnish goals live in the Yubileyny Sports Palace when Finland played (and brutally defeated!) France.
Next up was a two-day stop in the small but historical town Veliky Novgorod, three hours by elektrichki (suburban train) from SPB. The “birthplace of Russia,” as the tourist info called it, featured a pretty Kremlin, several churches, a beach by the Volkhov river and, on our street, a mix of adorable and downright terrifying guard dogs.
The weather turned grey in Veliky Novgorod and it would remain rainy for the next 10 days. We took the night train to Moscow, boarding our platzkart wagon together with a Russian junior athletics team – a big one – as well as an old Russian woman constantly mumbling, occasionally uttering the odd word in French. The teenagers were better behaved than we had expected and sharing a sleeping compartment with 52 other people went reasonably well. However, we’ll have to practice a more elegant manner of getting into and out of the top bunk, but I suppose we have time.
Moscow was big, grey and busy and our hostel a mess. We saw the big sights – St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, the Red Square – the small sights, walked a lot, toured the metro and caught a football game. Visiting Zenit crushed local Dynamo Moscow in front of loud SPB fans at Arena Chimki, where security clearly was top priority. I cannot remember seeing that many cops in one place before – be it post-terrorism concerts, EU summits or any international sports games in Belgium. Last but not least, we finally saw our friend Evgeniy again, 10 years after leaving Budapest!
Moscow has a lot to offer and some impressive sights, but I can’t say that either of us was sad to leave it a week after arriving. Maybe it was the weather, maybe the traffic or maybe the hordes of people rushing around, in a hurry to get somewhere else, but the train to Vladimir was a welcome change.