travel back in time

Saturday 15th January, St Petersburg, Russia


What is all this about, do you reckon? These signs are on store windows and doorways all over town. No coffee sold here? No coffee allowed in the shop? I'm confused. Email me if you know the answer. I might send you a postcard... or something.

Maria, myself and Alexey filling up on tasty Russian Piroshki.

Today was a more relaxing day of sightseeing, beginning with a hearty serving of Piroshki at a local cafe recommended by our host Alexey. He sighed when he recalled how great this little place used to be, before their prices started to go up and up. We slobbered our way through a dozen or so meat or cabbage filled Piroshkis, washed down with appple juice or coffee, and since Olga couldn't make it to the cafe, we bought four sweet Piroshki to take home for her. The total bill? Something like 170 Rubles (about five Euros or seven $US)

the Church Of The Resurrection of Christ.

We were quite taken with this church, the Church Of The Resurrection of Christ. Locally, it's known as The Church Of The Spilled Blood, since it was built on the site where Alexander II was blown up. I hope you like it as much as I do, cause here's two more photos of it...

the Church Of The Resurrection of Christ.

the Church Of The Resurrection of Christ.

The guard at the Mikhailovsky Castle was asleep, so we wandered into the open courtyard for a quick peek...

The courtyard of the Mikhailovsky Castle.

Along Nevsky Prospect, one of the main streets in central St Petersburg, we came across a crowd of protesting Communists, quite unhappy about something and very satisfied with themselves for having successfully blocked the normally busy thoroughfare. Police numbers appeared to be growing by the minute, with squad cars arriving from every direction. We made our exit before the situation started to detoriorate.

The Communists are revolting!

I had a challenge to complete before leaving town, so Maria and I set off in the snow to find the St Petersburg Conservatory of Music. On the map it looked quite close but in reality it was over an hour's walk- and that was without getting lost even once. In fact for me, the walk was a pleasure because we experienced our first snowfall of this whole trip. As we turned into Ulitisa Glinki, a great, gold domed building at the end of the street beckoned us. "Do you reckon that could be it?" I asked, but the map showed that it was a cathedral. A block closer, I saw a grand, ornate green and white building, adorned with large posters announcing upcoming performances. That must be it. But no, that was the Mariinsky Theatre. I scratched my head and studied the map again. Across the road from the Mariinsky Theatre was a nondescript building painted in drab grey, and according to the small program of events by the front door- and the woman inside who nodded profusely when I pointed to 'Conservatory of Music' on my map- this unassuming building was the Conservatory of Music. The final part of this challenge was for Maria and I to attend a concert there, but this proved unmanagebale. Foreigners pay a surcharge of 1000% on top of the ticketed admission price, and I'm just not that much of a fan, sorry. So we asked a passerby to snap a quick shot of us in the snow in front of the Conservatory, and beat a hasty retreat to a warm cafe.

Maria and me in front of the Conservatory of Music, St Petersburg.

for all your underwear needs!

The unseasonally warm weather- barely below freezing anywhere we've been on this trip- had lulled me into a false sense of confidence, and I'd begun our day's sightseeing without the thermal underwear that I had just a few weeks ago been wearing every day without consideration. My leather motorbike jacket and warm duffle coat are both great, but with just a Tshirt underneath, I was mighty glad to get back to Alexey's warm flat. I won't get caught like that again *at least until next time*

Alexey's mother's room looks more like an art gallery than a bedroom. She's a professional painter, and in fact the whole flat is adorned with her work, paintings reflecting her life in St Petersburg. I thought the painting below was just stunning, and if you're interested to see more of Olga's work, click here.

My favourite of Olga's paintings.

And then comes the story of riding the Metro. Well, even though all the station names are only written in Cyrillic characters, it's not that difficult to compare the characters on your hand held Metro map with the characters on the station walls. Changing trains isn't difficult either; there's only four lines and they're colour coded. Alexey had already told us that tokens for the Metro cost ten rubles, so there was little that could go wrong.

When our train arrived, I was pretty much first in line. I waited till the disembarking passengers were off, and as I stepped onto the train a guy pressed hard up against me as if trying to get ahead of me. I pushed back a little, and we ended up squashed next to each other in the train. The carriage was crowded, but not exactly packed, so I couldn't understand why he was still so uncomfortably close to me. The answer came when I noticed his hand in my coat pocket. I grabbed his hand and he quickly pretended he was just straightening his own jacket. I said something to him that I'm sure he understood (whether he spoke English or not!) and in an attempt to ignore me, he opened his newspaper and proceeded to read.

With my big backpack on my back and my smaller Daysafe on my front, it was diffiuclt to manouevre away from him in the crowd without knocking little old ladies flying, so I had to stay put. Of course the 'newspaper in a crowded train' is the oldest trick in the book, and before long his right hand disappeared below the newspaper and reached for my bumbag. Again I pushed his hand away and gave him a few choice words, suggesting that he consider another career besides professional pickpocket if this was a display of how talented he was. He gave me a confused look, one which he had obviously practised thoroughly. We still had two stops to go, but I'd also noticed a skinny blond guy bumping into Maria, smiling an apology and pretending he was drunk. I suggested to Maria that we get off at the next station and catch the following train, and can you believe it that even as the train pulled into the station, the idiot had one last attempt at me, by spreading the newspaper virtually in front of my face, and attempting to unzip the top zip on my Daysafe? This was just too much for me, and I let fly with a tirade that the whole carriage heard, all the time tapping the side of my head and laughing at how stupid he was. When we left the train, so did he and so did the blond guy who'd been jostling Maria. They chatted to each other a little, crossed the platform and boarded the train returning in the opposite direction!


Yes, as a matter of fact I do mean it.



P.S. I never felt that my security was at risk in the above situation. Nothing is kept in the accessible pockets of my duffle coat or bike jacket. My valuables are secured inside the central lockable section of my Daysafe, which is reinforced with slashproof stainless steel mesh. My bumbag is also a Pacsafe product, lockable and also with a stainless steel cable insert. My wallet can't be removed without a significant amount of wriggling and groaning, since I've put on a bit of weight since the summer, and it's impossible to reach when I'm wearing the duffle coat. As for my personal safety, these cowardly scumbags don't operate that way. This is their 'workplace' and the last thing they want is attention. In case of any conflict, their ploy is to act innocent, ignore everything, and get away. Even if they did manage to lift something from you, they wouldn't put it in their pocket. They'd be more likely to keep it in their hand or tuck it under their arm, and at the slightest sign of trouble they'll drop it on the floor and make an innocent face. They learn it in 'pickpocketing 101'. And you can be sure that they do not under any circumstances want to be involved with the police.

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