Russia. It’s vast, everything seems just a bit too much. The city’s perimeter expansive, the buildings huge blocks of cement, the dishes too much to finish, the shiny gold in the palaces and churches overwhelming. A much different experience from my regular travel destinations. The city a lot greyer, the people more direct than on my favourite continent South America. I missed the smiling faces and fierce Latin American passion. But a great experience and fun times nonetheless.
My Master’s graduation ceremony took me to St. Petersburg a couple of weekends ago. The event is hosted by a different partner university within the CEMS International Management programme every November and this year it was Russia! Cold weather, hello!
Aeroflot has this convenient overnight flight from London Heathrow at 10.30 pm (stop-over in Moscow) so we had nice early start on Friday. It gave us enough time for a bit of sightseeing before the pre-party at night. If you get to Nevsky Prospect, which is also the main shopping street, you will have an easy walk to all the main sights.
Church on the Spilled Blood
The State Hermitage
This palace is a bit outside of St. Petersburg. Go there by Uber (1,000 Rubel fixed price) and come back by bus and metro. By car, the journey is around 40-60 minutes depending on where you live and around 30 minutes longer by public transport.
Where (and what) to eat
That was a bit hit and miss for us… We hadn’t really checked online which restaurants were recommended and ended up walking around quite a bit. On Friday night before the party we went to this little pub in the basement close to the venue (Tkachi – Creative Space “Weavers). There were only a bunch of ladies who were singing and dancing wildly – we thought this promised to be a good start to the night. No one spoke English and the one English menu they had was a very creative translation of their Russian menu. We ordered some typical dishes and what we thought were two shots of vodka… The lady served us a carafe and we were soon invited (or forced) to dance with the ladies who were having a blast singing Karaoke.
That’s what I love so much about travelling and going off the beaten path – coming across places like these and experiencing a different culture in such an authentic way. We had a blast – and I liked to food, too!
Our Friday lunch and Saturday dinner were not the greatest choices we made so here it would have paid off to do some research. On Sunday we went to a Russian restaurant by the Marinsky Theatre called Sadko. The food was decent, amazing prices, the venue’s decoration a bit over the top but a recommendable spot overall.
I recommend you to try Pelmeni (Russian dumplings) – I had them every single day! Also, Blini’s with with sweet or savoury fillings are a good choice. Try them with caviar and sour cream.
You need to apply for a visa which is typically being processed within one week (next day express service available). Fees vary depending on your nationality, I paid around £80. You need an invitation (which your hotel can issue) and a bunch of other documents.
Check out the website: http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/tourist.html
Accommodation and getting around
We stayed in the hotel that also hosted our graduation party – the Park Inn on the island (Pribaltiyskaya). If you are planning on having a night out (worth an experience!), you need to take into account that the bridges are closing during the night and there are only certain short times that you can cross then. We had the problem of having to stay out two hours longer than we wanted because there was no way of getting home any sooner…
Uber be blessed! If you cannot be bothered to take public transport (it’s super cheap though – 30 Rubel for a metro ride), Uber is your next most affordable mode of transport. A 30 minute Uber ride won’t cost you much more than 200-300 Rubel (around $3-4). Wifi access is easy to find so that shouldn’t be an issue. Taxi’s are comparatively expensive and you’re in trouble if you don’t speak Russian. Be prepared to be ripped off. There is a price cap on Uber rides outside of the city at 1,000 Rubel. So that’s your airport fare too. Taking a taxi from the airport will cost you 2,000 – book a ticket inside the terminal.
Though I probably won’t go back any time soon, it was a really good weekend! And another country ticked off my bucket list! Happy travels, friends!