Sunday, April 23, 2006

St Petersburg (15/4 - 17/4)

After a while I realized that if I don't start on this post I will forget everything. And of course I want to record all my thoughts on the various trips I have been on!

St Pete's - We arrived from Moscow on a sleeper-car train which had no restaurant car, but had food boxes for all of us and boy, they were good. We arrived at 10am in the morning, my watch wasn't working properly for some reason and there was a little confusion over the time. Our hotel wasn't ready for checking in so we commenced on our bus tour right away.

So, pictures first, then comments along the way.


St Pete's train station Rostral columns (navigational beacons) on Vasilevsky Island along Moscow River. Lighted only on special occasions. We were here at the first stop of our bus tour.

Trinity Bridge. The centre can be drawn up for ships to pass. In winter of course the river is frozen (even seas are) and no ships will use the waterway.

Bronze horseman in front of St Isaac's Cathedral. Statues of famous generals who were victorious in wars are all over Russia, and this is also the case for the leaders (e.g. Lenin, Peter the Great whom St Petersburg was named after, Stalin etc.)

Another great looking horseman statue on Decembrist's Square. The square was named after an uprising in the 19th century. Refer to CJ's post for more details.

St Isaac's Cathedral. Named in honour of Peter the Great, born on the day of St Isaac of Dalmatia. (CJ has great info! HAHA!)

Naval warship converted into a museum for young Russian naval officers. The naval academy is just situated very conveniently across the road opposite this warship.

"Why I must do guard duty?" I bet this is what the guard is thinking! I can emphathize fully with you, dude.

After this, we headed for the Church of the Spilled Blood. Alexander II's spilled blood! (I thought it was Christ oops!)
It's such a magnificent structure, like St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. (CJ just reminded me of the name, thanks dude!)

Couple getting married. They look so in love (my superb photography!). Weddings in Russia are celebrated with the couple going round the city taking photos. I think I want to do that next time. It's fun!

We then returned to our hotel to check in. Err... the bus dropped us off at the wrong place? Why is there scaffolding on the facade of the building? NO this can't be our hotel... no wait the guide is entering the building, OMG IT IS OUR HOTEL! NOOOOOOO....

Hotel (or Hostel) Sotsialisticheskaya. Facade looks like s**t but the inside is better than s**t. In fact it was really a surprise that our rooms were so nice. So we chilled out for a while, before freshening up and deciding on the next course of action. Lunch time then maybe some sightseeing. And of course, SATURDAY night in St Pete's! What else to do? Party away in a club of course! The Russian clubs are said by many to be the best around in Europe. I have to go look for myself.

Debating where to go. I stay out of these "discussions", I rather take photos and look around. Decide, then lead the way. Not me, my map reading skills are still very limited.

At a gun shop. It sells pistols, revolvers, sub machine guns, semi automatic rifles, samurai style swords. And the shop is like, er, 500 metres from my hotel. Err, Russia is quite safe I guess.

Vicente and Jose's room. The room I had (with Fatih) was smaller but equally comfy. Beds were big and comfy. Guess the exterior doesn't speak much of the interior. Don't judge books by their cover, don't you know?

After dinner, we adjourned back to our rooms for some pre-party. This idea is mooted by most people going to club after that, so we can save money on the drinks. Vodka time! After 2 shots, my face was red, so I stopped. My alcohol limit is really so low. I think one more shot I will be floored. But it wasn't as bad as in Estonia where I had 80% vodka. Mixed half and half with Sprite, of course, but nonetheless 80% is really too much.

And after that, we decided to go out at 11pm. Walk and walk for 4km, then we reached Club Metro. Entrance fee 300 roubles (before midnight) and we were late for 2 minutes, so we paid 360 roubles. In Russian clubs they discriminate based on looks and which country you are from, so I was really lucky to get in (or maybe I am quite good looking as well =P). No chewing gum inside too, for some reason. And because of the policy of discrimination against looks, most of the people inside were really cool looking. Singapore should practise this too eh?

It was great inside the club. Dancing men in their underwear on a higher level for the babes to ogle at, and in turn the men on the floor get to ogle at those babes. I thought I was a bit dizzy and seeing double, but in fact hot bods were everywhere, and hot faces were left, right, to the front and back of me! WAAAAAAAAA! No pictures were allowed to be taken inside, and immediate action was taken by security personnel to eject those who did take pictures. I don't know how they knew, but it was efficient enough such that almost no one emerged from the club with any pictures from inside.


The next day, we woke up at 10.00am for some sightseeing. I was shagged out by the partying yesterday, but that didn't dampen my spirits. Of course, it was sightseeing and not studying! But we were tired and waiting for the 2 party animals in our group, Jose and Vicente to wake up. Vicente and Fatih came back at 6am from the night before (or rather that very morning)! At 11am we decided that we had to leave for the Hermitage and Winter Palace for the guided tour we were supposed to have. This was the highlight of the tour so I had to go there.

The Hermitage is a museum housing many artifacts and art pieces from famous artists like Van Gogh, Picasso (I don't like his Cubist paintings), Paul Gauguin, amongst others.

The Hermitage at the Palace Square. We were hurrying cos we were a little late for the guided tour which was supposed to take place at 12 noon. We were at this place like er, 11.55am or something. And there was some distance to cover still, because the place is simply so huge.

The other side of the Palace Square. Just too big for my camera to capture the panorama.

Aleksander Column right in the middle of the Palace Square, a tribute to Alexander the Great, who conquered many countries during his time. Just look how tall this monument was compared to the people standing beneath it. Can't even capture the top of the monument in one shot, or maybe I was just lousy.

Another look at the outside of the Hermitage/Winter Palace. Don't know which face I am shooting at, cos both of them are interconnected. And both are astounding structures.

Interior of the Winter Palace. My photography does it no justice. Not at all. =(
OK another picture to make it look more right.

The royal throne which the kings used to entertain nobility and guests from other countries.

Cutlery with animal designs in them. Interesting? The animals look so lifelike, almost real. Wait a moment, they WERE real animals. The artist who did this (forgot his name) caught the live animals and poured hot chemical on them while they were alive to preserve their life like image in his pursuit to make the artform lifelike. What can beat nature itself?

Palace Square as shot from one of the open windows of the Hermitage.

Picasso and one of his (ugly) Cubist paintings. Is this really art? The head is disconnected, the tits are unbalanced, and the woman looks like she is pregnant or obese. There were worse drawings, but I didn't want cram that s**t in my camera. I should have taken the Impressionist paintings. Some of them were really beautiful. Sorry, I am very traditional in my appreciation of art!

One of many rooms in the Hermitage.

One of many generals who led Russia to victory in one of many wars waged in ancient times. They have, of course, Russian names which I have no time and no memory space to remember.
Asia, as what a medieval artist thought.

Sofa with gilded gold. Looks good for a night of chips and TV.

One of the hallways in the Winter Palace. Always filled with ornate statues and the wall corners have intricate cornices.

Me in the Palace Square. The sun was really bright so I was squinting. Hate this Cheena look with the "mi-mi yan" (slitty eyes).

National Emblem of Russia. The double headed eagle.

Palace Square with throngs of tourists and Russians alike. It's a Sunday after all!

Statue of Peter the Great? I think so. Impressive chariot and horses, with 2 soldiers.

Arc of the Hermitage. Why doesn't Singapore have such structures?

Vastness of the Square. For Singapore, I think it would have taken up a significant percentage of its land area.

After being completely swept off my feet by the Hermitage and Winter Palace, we went off for lunch. I would want to come back to the Hermitage when possible. But Russia is just so difficult to come to, and unless you have a Russian speaking friend to get you around or you're in a tour group, you won't wanna be caught dead in Russia. What a pity, considering that it is such a beautiful place.

This was a building we passed by on the way to lunch. If I had my way, it would be called the Colosseum or the Battle Arena. But sadly I am not the President or Prime Minister of Russia, so it is called... er I don't know. I really think there was some bull fighting or with lions and tigers here. Looks pretty much like a battle arena, no? OK, just give me the name, won't you? And God said, "Let there be light". And there was the sun, shining down brightly on us. Glorious sunshine!

Cool columns.

Medieval times? Ancient clothes? Aint this supposed to be a black and white photo?

No, it's just a couple getting married and taking a nice stroll down the park.

Catherine the Great, after she murdered her husband and looking free and victorious. For whatever reason.

Across the nice, wonderful Moscow River. Nice unobstructed view. Sure, you can see that for yourself!

OK, you just have to know that this hot babe was posing for me. I was there, at the right time, in the right place. =)

Hot babe, hot dog. Hotdog anyone? Americans would love them with their ketchup. Oh yes, I have to mention that in Russian MacDonald's, you pay an extra 8 roubles for a packet of ketchup. And an ice cream costs 6 roubles. What were they thinking? Payback time for the Americans?

Singapore should have some of these trees to line our roads too. Looks quite pretty, though the trees are a tad bald. Men who are bald can be charming too.

We need some canals like that too, to have picnics or something. Not that we have time to have picnics, but it would be good to have such an option.

Some sort of a church or museum, whatever. What else do they have in Russia, anyway? MacDonald's, oh yeah. And Russian jails. Didn't get to see one though. Phew!

"Bonjour!" Delightful French girls. (from left) Julie, Mathilde, Perrine (pronounced Per-hine). Met them on the St Pete's tour. They're studying in Helsinki. They became the group that I was with on the second half of the tour. For some reason. ;-)

Fashion in Russia. Hey girls in Singapore, this is what is called fashion. Boots and a mini skirt! Forget the revealing tops ya? Legs are the new things to show off. Especially if you have nothing to show on the top.

Horse pissing in the street. Next time you see a patch of wetness on the roads, don't think it's some harmless water puddle. If you did step into one, congrats! You might just get good luck for the rest of your life! I heard stepping on dog shit brings good luck too, try it!

Busking in a Russian street. Not uncommon for musicians to earn their living this way. Sad, but true. Oh by the way, they play pretty decent music too, not like the crappy hip-hop music that is infiltrating MTV.

"Come, come, sit on my thigh. Good picture!" I bet that is what the pervert must be saying to the girl.

And she did. Good for the guy. I'm not jealous though cos she doesn't look hot to me. No, not this one.

Chicks on the street. Russia is just chock-full of chicks. Piet (Belgian guy) told me that that's the only thing they have, a good body. And life in Russia is hard. So they are trying to sell themselves to the richest guy, like maybe Roman Abramovich.

Nice sunglasses. Yeah I just thought so. It really depends on how you wear it. Or rather, WHO wears it.

At night, we offered to take the French girls out for some clubbing. It was a failed attempt though, cos the club we went to had hip-hop music. I swear I will never enter a club with hip-hop again. IT REALLY SUCKS! Sorry ladies! Then me and Fatih were walking home ourselves on this dark night with groups of Russians hanging out along the sidewalk and I was saying like, er this looks and sounds like some horror movie when you get yanked off the street into some car and drugged and get sold into a brothel or something. He said "Man shut up, you are scaring me into some real shit." I was like "HUH you are really that scared?" And he said, THIS IS RUSSIA!

Next thing we knew, there was a police car parked along the street. We were just looking left to see if there were cars and suddenly the police car started its engine and started rolling slowly towards us. SCARED AS HELL, we just crossed the road without caring if there were going to be cars coming. Yes we heard stories about these policemen. Don't ever let a police car approach you, or the rest of your visit you can have free food and accomodation, though maybe not five-star. Read: Russian jail.

So we got home safe, bathed, got to sleep. Had a date with the French ladies in the morning. Some spot of shopping, maybe.


French girls again. Fatih is in the way. FATIH!

Prehistoric van used maybe in Stone Age or something. Nah, I'm exaggerating. It's probably last seen in action like, World War II. Probably if it's in Singapore, it'd be some collector's item for the nouveau riche. But for the Russians, it's a van used in everyday activities. Well if it aint broke, why not?

Escalator to go down to Hell. Sure it feels like that. What would you think of riding the escalator for 3 minutes? Or was it 5? It's one down to the metro. Scary, especially if you have a fear of heights. St Pete's metro stations were not pretty at all, unlike in Moscow, so I shall spare you the pictures.

After leaving the French girls, Fatih and me had to run our way back to our hostel. Cos it was 1.45pm and our bus would be leaving at 2pm. I was glad for my previous military training. Across dangerous Russian streets, past Russian people speaking Russian (what else?), along dirty pavements perpetually covered with a layer of grey dust (except maybe in winter, where it's covered with cleaner white snow. Or maybe black and grey snow?

We made it in time. Only just. There was a bus which passed us and some people were waving to me, and I was just pissing in my pants and hoping that it wasn't our bus that we just missed. It wasn't. Phew!

Then there was the bus journey back, of which there were not many note-worthy pictures, because I was just too tired, tired of travelling, tired of looking out for baddies and policemen, tired of clubbing, tired of taking voyeur shots of hot babes, and just plain tired of Russia. It just came all at once to me. I was tired.

So we went back to Finland, past many passport checks, past the Russian border crossing (which we waited 3 hours at... for nothing). Past the Finnish border checks, and WOOT we were back in familiar territory... Finland! Everyone cheered on the bus when our tour leader said, "And we are back in Finland!" Claps all around, and maybe I suspect even the clinking of beer bottles.


And I shall spend the rest of the time chilling out in Finland, Oulu. Resting my poor soul, and my poor legs which had blisters from the crazy walking we did in Russia.

Mathilde was kind enough to put me and Fatih up at her flat when we reached Helsinki cos I felt it was too late to go back to Oulu, and we wouldn't have a good trip on the train even if we caught it. And not forgetting I left my boxer shorts at Ivan's place before Russia, I was planning to get it first thing in the morning, so a night in Helsinki would be real good.

Next day at 3.40pm I met Thomas at the Helsinki train station, and both of us caught the train back to Oulu at 4pm. Met 3 Finnish girls on the train and had a fun time talking to them in Finglish (mixture of Finnish and English) cos their English was quite bad and my Finnish was equally bad, if not worse. Keep trying girls, and you will make it someday. You have to! For me, Finnish (aka Suomi) is a beautiful language that is spoken by Finns, and I'll bet you a dollar it'll stay that way. Or maybe ten bucks.

Charming 18 year olds (from left): Anniina, Marjaana and Suvi. Finnis as hell. Nope didn't miss that -h out accidentally. That's how most Finnish people say their nationality - Finnissss!

That pretty much sums up my trip to Russia (Moscow and St Pete's). New friendships forged, new people met, new experiences to be told, new sights, new outlook on life even.

I am so glad for this exchange, I think it's like the best thing that happened in my life so far. Thank NUS for this, it's like the only thing that NUS had done right in my opinion (the next thing they need to start doing is to foot part of our expenses; most other universities are doing it anyway! And they are not even in the top 20 in the world!). My wish has come true (SEP during my university life) and I have my mum and dad to thank for sponsoring me to make this whole dream come true.

Looking forward to my next trip out, but for now, I'd rather just enjoy the company of my friends in Oulu!