Friday was our main full day in St Petersburg; time-wise, Thursday had been a full day too but by the time we had got up and had lunch, it felt too late to start anything major.
We had decided to head back to The Idiot for breakfast: it was nearby, pleasant and cheap. It also didn’t open until 11am which was a great excuse for a lie-in. The bed was incredibly comfortable, with a lovely heavy duvet, so little excuse was needed but always welcome. Anyway, at The Idiot, the only real breakfast option for us was bliny – pancakes – which we got with sour cream and honey. We had bread on the side (John was disappointed that it didn’t include the rye bread we had the day before but it was sesame seedy instead which was better for me) and delicious Earl Grey tea with cornflowers in it. The flowers made it, um, flowery but also kept the bergamot really light so it was really refreshing and quickly became my new favourite type of tea (after a little investigation, Whittards have a similar concoction called “Traditional Afternoon”, not quite as good but close).
We couldn’t decide what to do with the day: there were two main choices either hang out random locales or go to the Hermitage. I don’t usually like going to museums on holidays (unless that is the purpose of the trip) but The Hermitage has such an amazing reputation that I thought it might be worth a trip. It would kill the whole day though – and the day was already half-over because we’re lazy – so we decided to wander around the city instead.
We were incredibly full again (bit of a theme for the holiday and our lives really) so waddled over to Sennaya Ploschad (Haymarket) which, according to the guidebooks, had a reputation for being busy and intense, with loads of little market stalls. While the former was pretty much true, at a guess, the city has cleaned up the square since the guidebooks were written as, while there were quite a few different stalls, most just poked out of the buildings around the metro stations. There were still a number of individual stalls (the fruit and veg ones were bizarre igloos) and anyway, it was quite interesting looking at all the produce on the stalls: similar yet so different to that which you’d get over here. We sat on a bench for a good while for John to go on a photography mission then decided to get a tram over to the Peter and Paul Fortress. According to my map, a tram from Sennaya Ploschad would take us all the way over the river to the Fortress for 10roubles. My map lied.
We waited at one tram stop for a while but the number we wanted didn’t arrive so we started walking. We thought if we walked the tram route, we could pick it up at a later stop. We walked along Sadovaya Ul. to Nevskiy Prospekt and across the other side, between Marsovo Pole and Letny Sad. We then walked across Troitsky Most (Trotsky Bridge) which didn’t feel as long as the longest, hottest bridge in the world in Budapest but not far off. If you look on a map, you’ll see that this really was the long way around from Sennaya Ploschad to the Peter and Paul Fortress and probably took us about an hour (we weren’t exactly rushing). It was really interesting though – a bit more off the tourist-beaten path which we usually pad.
We didn’t have a chance to explore it closely but I very much enjoyed the domes of the mosque to the east of Aleksandrovsky Park: the turquoise made a nice change from all the gold. We crossed into the Peter and Paul Fortress and paid about 50roubles to walk around on top of the walls. It was certainly worth it for the view of the city and there was a panoramic photography display near the end of the it which was really interesting. We crossed into the square in front of the Cathedral but didn’t have time to go into the building itself (which is a shame because the picture on Wikipedia looks amazing). We left the island by the western exit and walked the shorter way back to the hotel: over Birzhevoy Most, then saw more brides and a little bear on the tip of Birzhevoya Ploschad, then over Dvortsovy Most to the main part of the city again. That dropped us off near the Hermitage/Winter Palace so we decided to go for a photo session in the square.
As we stood there, marvelling how quiet it was for such a central space, it suddenly got noisier. The sound of a thousand car horns honking suddenly filled the air but given we were used to the sound of a Moscow rush hour, we dismissed it as nothing special or maybe a small crash. Within a minute or so, it became apparent it was something a bit special: it was the wedding (yes, another one) procession for members of a biker gang, led by the groom with his new wife on a three-wheeler behind. There were perhaps 30 or 40 bikes, all revving their engines and honking their horns. They did a loop of the square (which, by this point, we were in the middle of) then all came to a stop for photographs and banter. It was quite a sight.
We stayed there for a little while but then wandered back to the hotel because I had a massage session booked. If you find yourself trekking around a city for a day, I can heartily, HEARTILY recommend having a massage at the end of it. The spa in the hotel offered several different massage options but I went for the facial and full body one because it was a good deal (it was about Euro65 for each individually, but together it was only Euro85). The massage was by far the best bit – and the foot and leg bits being just what I needed right then. I was glad I had showered first though – because I’m sure the smell of trainer-feet would have made the experience far less enjoyable for all involved.
John had just got out of the bath when I got back to the room so we read for a while in the room. Then the hunt for food started again: this time, we were planning on heading up to a Soviet-kitsch restaurant called “Lenin’s Mating Call”, again, not too far from the hotel on Morskaya Ul (iirc). Again, we nearly missed it because it was on a corner, further down the road than we thought it would be but inside it was unmissable: fantastically camp with more Lenin busts than you can shake a revolutionary stick at. All the waitresses were dressed in “sexed up” Komsolmol uniforms – little mini-skirts, red stockings, low cute blouses and little caps – we thought Gianni or Dan would spontaneously combust if they could see such sights. Surprisingly, the food was actually really good but it was slow in coming (it was busy and Friday night I guess). Having been a good vegetarian the day before, I went crazy for the meat: spicy beef and pork pelmini (absolutely delicious) and a beef fillet with a very sweet vegetable topping (mostly peppers but I guess it was very carrotty too). It came with aubergine things but compared to everything else, they weren’t that flavourful. John had stuffed aubergine to start (which were very good) and a beef stroganoff for his main course. I think I won good food choices though :)
We had a last nighttime stroll in Russia and took some pictures of St Issac’s at night, then retired to the lovely bed and duvet.