What is one of the advantages of staying in Estonia? Right, a lot of interesting places to discover all around, besides Estonia itself, of course. One of them is definitely St. Petersburg – even if not every Estonian seems to be as happy about the big neighbour as we are. As the ones who want to travel there, it is a great opportunity for us to come around and see different cities, countries and cultures.
So, we were very happy to go there. It was clear from the beginning that we want to see Russia in case of a semester abroad in Tallinn, and arriving here the trip to St. Petersburg has been one of the first ones we booked.
So, the day came and we went to the meeting point to meet up with all the other students from Tallinn. Departure was set for 7:30am. Great. This meant we would be in St. Petersburg very early and have half of the day there. The distance being about 350 kilometers, you can make it in maximum 5 hours. No you don’t! It took us 9 hours to get there. Us being Germans, we are very spoiled from German highways. Another fact that prolonged our journey was the Russian border. We spent more than two hours there and there was nothing to see. Before, we thought that all good things come in threes. No. 4 times of showing our passports. Showing the passport in Estonia, showing the passport before the border, showing it at the border to get a stamp on our visa and to get the bus controlled and showing it after the border. Even if we did not understand the need of this, we were happy that we finally made it to Russia.
But we were wrong thinking that this was the biggest adventure on our way. The people who went on the Saaremaa trip with the International Club were afraid of the driving style of our driver. Always looking to the back seats while changing to the left track.
After driving over a Russian highway we now know that all the dashcam videos on YouTube are real. People try to overtake, no matter if there is traffic from the other side or not. So it was not a rarity that the left lane was used in two directions at the same time.
Nevertheless we made it to St. Petersburg. And the battle about the twin rooms began. We have never seen a group of tourists rushing to the streets that fast. Everything just to get this one twin room. Because it already got dark quite early, the rest of the evening consisted of eating and exploring the close area around the hostel which was mostly the main road, Nevsky Prospekt.
One thing has to be said in advance: Portions were not meant to saturate us.
The next morning we were very happy to be the first ones to get up. This morning joy spread in two moments: The first one was entering the shower. Even in the rain you would get more water to wash with. Also, it seemed like the last one would not have the warmest shower anymore. The second one was coming down to breakfast: cornflakes, jam and toast. If you were fast you also had the possibility to catch a yoghurt. Not the biggest selection but ok to fill the stomach for the first time.
Our day consisted of a city tour by bus with a local guide. She knew a lot about the places we hopped of the bus at to behave and take a lot of photos like real tourists do. But this way we saw the most important places you need to see in such a short time in a city. It was beautiful. We realized that St. Petersburg has a lot of European attitudes and an impressive architecture. Even the cold and grey weather was not able to ruin this amazing days.
Now we also know, why this city is called “Venice of the North”. With all its canals and rivers, St. Petersburg got more cozy, even if this fact made it colder as it already was. Especially on our boat trip right after the city tour.
We were dumb enough to believe that we are able to sit on deck. After about 3 minutes we decided to not become an ice block and went inside. As by coincidence we found a place right next to a hot fan. Amazing feeling.
As all the windows were completely fogged, the boat trip came to an end.
For those, who did not book the Russian folk dinner (yes, we were some of this few) it was time to find something to eat by themselves again. We found a restaurant with original Russian food. Except the Card-reading system everything was very good. But as we already mentioned before: It needed a extra bread and a dessert to get satisfied.
And what the card system? We were not able to pay by card. Meant we had to search an ATM what is not as easy as in Estonia by the way.
After 20 minutes they probably got nervous whether we would ever come back. But we had to, not least because I had to deposit my Estonian ID-card.
The third day started like the second, we got up early to catch some warm water drops grabbed some fast flakes and went to the bus. The day began with an underground tour – St. Petersburg has a great, very low lying underground infrastructure and the stations are very nice looking! The tour took about 1 hour and after that we had some free time to explore the city on our own.
We walked around and visited some more churches and because of the small breakfast it was the time again, to find a place for lunch. While searching we found two places called “Clean Plates”, a really hipster restaurant and “Craft Brew Cafe”, a really “we can get good beer there”- looking place. We decided to go there in the evening and found a great cafe to have lunch.
After the reinforcement we were ready to visit the Hermitage. A huge palace with lots of portraits and thousands of rooms. It is really impressing how many different sides a house can have but as we are philistines that was almost everything we took from this place:
As mentioned before, we found these great looking restaurants in the afternoon and we went for an awesome burger and even better honey mayonnaise to clean plates (that was also the first time we were saturated) and afterwards for some great russian craft brew beers.
On the last day we were able to buy some souvenirs and get a last walk around St. Petersburg, its great streets and awesome buildings. Of course we had to buy this typical Russian hats (Even if we look even more dumb with them). At this point the amazing days were already over and we had to go to the bus. After another eight hour bus drive and 4 times passport showing we were very happy to be back at our second home – Tallinn.
Jan & Tom
Authors: Jan Burhenne and Tom Göhler
Photos: Jan Burhenne and Tom Göhler
Editor: Katharina Binder