St Petersburg

Venice of the north

Our trip to St. Petersburg (again, Russia, not Florida!) was a surreal experience. Never have I been in a land more foreign. I struggle with where to begin telling the tales of this trip. I do not know how many days we were there without looking at our flight itinerary. The days just blended together, somewhat to do with the fact that I was in the US for two weeks prior to arriving in St. Petersburg.

I shall begin with the view of the city as the plane approached St. Petersburg. The perimeter of the city is dotted with nuclear reactors and Soviet-style housing. I write that in such a matter-of-fact way because it is a fact. Nuclear reactors are enormous.

I wasn’t able to take a photo of the skyline because electronic devices were not permitted at that time during the flight but I did take a photo of a Soviet-style housing block while in Moscow.

After landing in St. Petersburg, we snaked our way through immigration (those officers do not mess around) and met Marina outside of the baggage claim. We then sat in rush hour traffic for about 45 minutes until we finally made it to our hotel. While sitting in traffic, I noticed a lot of bridges and canals and it reminded me of a larger scale Venice. Later, I would learn that St. Petersburg is known as the “Venice of the North”. And much, much later I would learn that there are a whole helluva lot of cities known as the Venice of the North.

St. Petersburg is located on the shores of Neva Bay which is the eastern-most part of the Gulf of Finland. St. Petersburg also encompasses many islands within the river estuary. Geographically, it very similar to Venice, Italy. The city is comprised of 101 small islands, separated by canals and connected by 350 bridges. That’s where the comparison to Venice ends, however. The city vibe is that of Las Vegas – 24/7. Everything – and I mean everything – is open 24 hours a day. Need vodka at 4am? Not a problem. Add in the “white nights” phenomenon and St. Petersburg is a city where you quickly lose track, not only of hours but days.

Sergei calls this “time travel”.

We arrived at our hotel at about 5:30pm. By 6:30pm, we were dead asleep in our “sleep cave”.

We slept from 6:30pm to 12:30am. At 1:30am, Peter met Sergei for sushi, green tea, and vodka while I unpacked and ordered rubbish room service. What I didn’t know at the time was that sleeping was going to be very problematic for me and that I should have joined Peter and Sergei.

Peter returned at 3:30am and we fell back asleep until 1:30pm the following day. So, day numero uno and our sleep was completed jacked up. I got 16 hours of sleep on our first “night” and only 10 hours of sleep over the course of the next four nights.

Touristing around St. Petersburg is not easy. The city doesn’t have the infrastructure for it. The city is instead built around vodka and food and having a good time for the people who live there. Communication is a huge barrier and was by far the worst I have experienced in my travels. We found that very few Russians speak English and to add to the language barrier, the alphabet is completely different, so even writing an address on a piece of paper to hand to a taxi driver is almost impossible.

As far as tourism goes, yes, there are things to do and see in St. Petersburg but we didn’t see any of them! We were too busy trying to work small naps into our downtime from Peter’s drinking. Alcohol is a huge factor for me when it comes to sleep so I minimized my alcohol intake in hopes of an uptick in sleeping hours but as I would later learn, the lack of alcohol did not make a difference and I should have just participated in the festivities.

In total, I consumed the following.

  • Two mystery vodka cocktails.
  • Four glasses of red wine.
  • Three bloody marys.
  • One mojito.
  • Five vodka cocktails mixed with various fruit juices.

I’ve been asked a handful of times if it’s easy to visit Russia. The short answer is no, it is not easy. Obtaining a tourist visa is a long and difficult process and though anything is possible, I feel it would be hard to be a tourist in Russia without a translator. Peter minored in Russian at university which came in helpful at times, however, most Russians were not able to understand his accent and we most often ended up communicating with a combination of tactics: writing in English, speaking very basic English and pantomiming.

Click here for the next post in the ongoing Russia saga.

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