[12/09/2011] Welcome to the third and final part of my East Europe Roadtrip report! I wrote the first piece nearly two years ago and figured it would finally be time to finish off this series. Coming from Helsinki in Finland on an overnight train with a dicey passport control, I had finally made it to the world’s largest nation and visited Saint Petersburg & Moscow in Russia.
The 5 hour train ride from Helsinki, Finland to Saint Petersburg, Russia was a really bizarre experience. I was required to obtain a Visa prior to my trip and knew that at some point they will check it on the train while we cross the border at night. We were sitting down on our seats with the ones opposite of us being free. Just about half an hour before the border, some really weird looking guy came over. We were not thinking of much and minded our own business and he would soon disappear again as well. Some more time passed and the immigration officer came into our compartment. He was tipsy at least from probably a little bit too much vodka and clearly had fun trying to scare us a little bit while his colleagues were searching everything for illegal substances such as alcohol, which regularly get smuggled in via the trains.
Relieved that he had nothing to moan about our Visas and Passports, we could sit back and relax again, until the same guy from earlier appeared again. He took the same seat and started to look for something, eventually coming up with 2 big bottles of some kind of alcohol which he was clearly hiding from the police! Without even looking at us, he took them and disappeared again, probably leaving the train at the next station. Looking at each other in disbelief, we realized how lucky we had been that the police did not find the little secret stash as it would have put us in a really bad situation! We were off to a good start and arrived in the middle of the night at the dodgy looking train station of Saint Petersburg, waiting for our Couchsurfer to pick us up…
Staying in our Couchsurfers place itself was a great experience. Never had I been in a more dirty, yet still comfortable place before. We had a great time going out and playing table football too as you can see in the pictures and our host told us some interesting stories, such as he lived in a pretty dangerous area and there was a chance to get robbed and you better get robbed by a robber and not by the corrupt police here! (Side note: If you want to find out more about Couchsurfing, check out the Huffington Post article I wrote back in 2011!). Another interesting aspect was that you actually had to time your evening visits to the other side of the river with the bridge crossings. They were opening up for boats at night and remained open all the way until the early morning; pretty easy to get stuck on the wrong side of the river here after a night out!! We actually had to run to just barely make it back to our side…
There was a lot to check out in Saint Petersburg. This amazing city is not only host to nearly 5 million people, it also contains beautiful architecture and interesting sculptures. I especially liked the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, which is impressive both in- and outside, as well as the Winter Palace, hosting the Hermitage Museum nowadays. Kazan Cathedral reminded me of the Vatican in Rome and a huge sail boat with 3 masts was something I did not really expect in Russia! Even just taking the Metro will already make you take pictures!
We decided to spend one day at Peterhof Palace, which is about 1 hour west of Saint Petersburg and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Peter the Great started to construct this site as his Summer Palace back in 1714 and visiting was absolutely worth all the time and effort spent. The lovely gardens made up for some nice walks and the impressive golden fountain statues in front of the palace are very picturesque – I could see why Peter liked to hang out here back in the days!
Tenth Stop – Moscow, Russia
Moscow is about 4 hours south of Saint Petersburg and the capital of Russia with over 13 million people. It comes without saying that it is also packed with great places to check out. However, coming from Saint Petersburg, I was actually a little bit disappointed with the sights in Moscow. Everything just seemed a bit smaller and less spectacular! The iconic St Basil Cathedral can’t compete with Saint Petersburg’ Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, especially when you compare the interior. St Basil just seemed a bit pale compared to its glorious competitor in Saint Petersburg!
Walking along the red square itself was my personal highlight in Moscow. This huge open area between the red colored State History Museum and St Basil Cathedral offered plenty of photo opportunities and the fact that it used to be the very center of the Soviet Union gave it a very strong historic appeal. Spent a few hours here and you can observe all kinds of people, some of them dressed up as Stalin even which seemed pretty funny. I came back here a couple of times and my favorite was certainly during the golden hour just before sunset when the Cathedral was lit up in warm light.
The world famous kremlin was also great to check out. You can find the typical white churches with golden roofs, a huge Tsar Cannon and an over 6m tall Tsar Bell in here. The rest of Moscow did not impress me too much. Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was a good spot on the way towards a gigantic and bizarre looking ship and I enjoyed the sunset near the State University. Other than that, not too much happened on the last stop of this big road trip through 9 countries and it was time to get back home for work 🙂
Looking back at this trip and writing about it 6 years after was pretty interesting. With now nearly 100 visited countries, I was a real rookie back then and had only seen 16 countries! I also did not write any notes, but just looking at my old and crappy pictures was enough to bring back all the memories on our way to Saint Petersburg.
I will probably make it to Belarus, Moldova and the Ukraine next year – maybe I can re-visit Russia as well again then 🙂
>> Go back to the second part of this report right here. <<
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