Max and Jared and Evan and Ryan

Dateline: St. Petersburg, Day 2 – The Hermitage

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
11 June 2009

I ended up going to the Hermitage today. That makes sounds like I was talked into going or something, which I wasn’t. But I wasn’t exactly set on going if no one else was. Evan and Jared were going, so I went with them.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

In general, I’m not what you would call an art museum person. And I generally tend to steer away from them unless the museum is of utmost importance. But my friend Staples said that the Hermitage was pretty cool and worth seeing. And he was right. It also helped that I was able to finagle my way in for free as a student (I actually didn’t have my student ID card, but they accepted my drivers license instead…probably not realizing what it was).

Word of warning about the Hermitage. Do not, under any circumstances, underestimate its size. It’s freaking huge! I did not realize this before going in.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

Anyway, it way huge. Pretty cool. Definitely worth seeing, even if you have too pay. You name the artist, and they are probably there: Picaso, Rembrandt, Monet and Manet. This list goes on. There’s also a neat collection of Egyptian artifacts that’s worth finding.

I picked up some postcards and wrote a couple notes to people back home1.

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St. Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

We headed back to the hostel, walking half the way and riding the metro the other half. I made a quick stop at the grocery store for some essentials (eggs, bread, yogurt, beer), then on to an evening of relaxation and making plans for the next few days.

  1. If you want a postcard too, send me an email with your address and I’ll see what I can do 

Dateline: St. Petersburg, Day 1 – The Amber Room

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
10 June 2009

Sleeping on the train was one of those worthless endeavors that I still attempted anyway. It wasn’t because the train was bumpy or loud; on the contrary, it was smooth and quiet. I really blame the short length of the bunk (my feet easily hung off, and I’m no Michael Jordan) and the fact that I was sick, which made sleeping in general uncomfortable.

Thus, sleeping for the night consisted of me rolling into and out of consciousness.

We arrived in St. Petersburg pretty much right on time, and I made my way to the metro. The St. Petersburg Metro is exactly like the Moscow Metro, except deeper (the deepest in the world by average depth of all stations, according to Wikipedia) and they also use a coin token system instead of the RFID system that Moscow uses. The stations are also less conveniently located.

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I took the metro for one stop and popped off. Finding the Crazy Duck hostel was pretty easy, especially considering my state of sleep deprivation. I checked in, chatted with a couple of friends back in the States, and then promptly crashed on the couch until a bed was ready.

Around noon, Evan, Jared, and Max showed up and we all checked in and got beds.

Shortly thereafter, Greg and Mike, two brothers from the Seattle area invited me to come with them and Kennon from California and Gianni (pronounced Jonny) from Italy (but living in Germany) to Tsarskoye Selo.

After a bit of walking and a 30 minute bus ride to the outskirts of town, we arrived. Tsarskoye Selo is a former Russian residence of the imperial family and visiting nobility1 and houses, among other things, the Catherine Palace and Park, home of the Amber Room.

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The line to get in was over an hour long. Fortunately, there was also the park to explore. Greg and Gianni held our place in line while Mike, Kennon, and I went to explore the gardens. The entire grounds, garden and palace, is very western looking; often times I would completely forget that I was still in Russia!

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

Roses are Red
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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

Then we switched. And it started to rain. And then pour.

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

The entire palace is magnificent really, the Amber Room particularly so, although I was pretty fond of the front stair case with it’s stark white walls contrasted by red curtains and blue-faced clock and barometer.

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Aleksandrovka, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia

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It was still raining by time we left. We made a quick dash for the bus stop and then rode back in to town. This would, fortunately, be my only real experience on the roads of Russia (save my overnight bus trip). Traffic, even in St. Petersburg, is pretty horrendous and drivers take on an every-man-for-himself approach. Not terribly bad, just moderately concerning.

On the way back to the hostel, we decided it would be a good idea to get something to eat. Armenian was the choice and I sat down to a feast of cold-seasoned beans, a bread boat with egg and cheese, and beef medallions with a beer.

I called it an early night (at 11:30pm) and headed to bed.

Update: Removed hanging sentence from third-to-last paragraph.


Dateline: Moscow, Day 7

Moscow, Russian Federation
9 June 2009

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really do anything today. Mostly because I wasn’t feeling to well. I dragged my feet in the morning, but eventually made it to breakfast and a shower.

I packed my bags and cleared off my bed. Then promptly crashed on the couch for a couple of hours.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

In the afternoon, Jared invited to be to coffee and beer at Cafe Pushkin, a restaurant akin to The Metropolitan Grill in terms of classiness and price.

You may be wondering how we managed to get in wearing out travel grub if Cafe Pushkin requires dress slacks, shoes, and a collard shirt (I’m assuming). The answer is we didn’t. We were turned away at the door and went off to find our beer and coffee somewhere else.

We settled on a small outdoor restaurant and got a couple half-liter glasses of beer. I also grabbed a sandwich that involved salmon in either a smoked or raw state, hoping for the former. We shot the shit about grad school1, then made our way back.

I dicked around on the Internet, getting last minute instructions for how to get to my next hostel from the train station and figuring out where the US Consulate was, just in case. I made my peace with everyone at the hostel and then was on the subway.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

I wasn’t quite sure how much extra time I would need, so I was sure to give myself plenty. I get top marks on that account, arriving at the train station even before the train did. I make a quick survey of the grounds and figured out just where I needed to go.

I was in third-class seating with beds. My ticket listed me on car 4. I assumed that there would be just one train car with the number 4…as in 4th car from the engine, or something like that. There’s actually several #4 cars. I picked the one I liked best and got in line. I handed my ticket and passport to the ticket lady. She check me off, then wrote 26. I assumed that I had done something wrong, and was trying to figure out what, when someone kindly said, “No, it’s seat 26.” That made more sense.

So I went in, put up my stuff, and took a seat. An older lady lady, thin but kind, was my bunk mate. Across from us, a mother and adolescent (perhaps 16) who clearly did not want to be on the train with his mother, let alone sleeping above her.

We started moving almost right on time…it was barely noticeable.

The ticket lady came by again to collect my ticket this time.

As soon as we were sufficiently under way, I climbed in to bed and tried to fall asleep.

Moscow was an interesting city, definitely not one in which I’d care to live. Perhaps one I’d visit again. Here’s to hoping St. Petersburg would be even better.

  1. Jared just graduated CU with a BSME 

Dateline: Moscow, Day 6

Moscow, Russian Federation
8 June 2009

Having gone to the Central Armed Forces Museum yesterday, my plan for today was to go the Cosmonaut Museum.

I headed out on the metro with Eric and Casper. We made our way to the Cosmonaut Museum, taking pictures along the way.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

We got to the entrance and…

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

…it was closed. On Tuesdays (which I knew) and Mondays (which I did not know). I was definitely disappointed, and it showed.

We decided to make lemonade out of our lemons. There was a giant ferris wheel a bit north that we went to investigate. It turned out to be the All-Russian Exhibition Centre. We walked around for a while before heading back.

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Ostankinsky, Moscow Federal City, Russia

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Ostankinsky, Moscow Federal City, Russia

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Severnoye Medvedkovo, Moscow Oblast, Russia

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

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Severnoye Medvedkovo, Moscow Oblast, Russia

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

When I got back, I asked Daniel, the guy who runs the hostel to write me a note so I could get my train ticket for St. Petersburg. I went down to the train station with Jared (who was trying to get a ticket for Evan and himself) and, boy, let me tell you something about getting train tickets in Russia.

If you don’t know any Russian, it may take you forever.

We went to three different train stations, stood in several lines, and I finally managed to get my tickets after over three hours of figuring the system out.

The first station we went to was for what I (believe) to be a regional train; the next city and such, perhaps less than an hour away. We stood in line and the lady pointed us in another direction. So we went outside and looked for another building that looked like a train station.

We went inside that one, and, after spending 20 minutes finding the ticket office, stood in line for another 45 minutes (at least) only to be told that, “No, this wasn’t the place to buy tickets for St. Petersburg, it’s аовлу овлфдщу лодфш Leningradsky vokzal аодушгв оудлфы”1. She did write the words, ” Leningradsky vokzal” on a piece of paper (Which I still have, just in case). I assume that this is the station we needed to go to.

So, we walked back across the street. Asking people if they knew where “Leningradsky vokzal” was. And they’d point us in a direction and we’d walk in that direction until we were confused. We finally found someone who spoke a bit of English and were able to get sufficient directions to get to the right station.

Now we just needed to figure out which tickets to get. Jared thought that we should go to the Information Booth to figure all of this out, which I thought was a good idea. So we found that and after much (and I do mean much) back and forth, Jared figured out a couple of trains he could take (he and Evan wanted to leave in a couple of hours).

I looked at the timetable to so I at least had an idea of what trains I might take. I just wanted the cheapest one that left in the evening.

So we go get back in line. And these lines move sloooooow. Slower than molasses slow. Seriously. I have no idea why it takes to freaking long to book a ticket (be it train or museum). So I wait and wait and wait.

Jared ends up heading back to the hostel because it turns out that you need a passport to book a train ticket…no idea why, you just do.

I’m about two spots from the front when this little old lady with purple dyed hair (not a really strong dye job, more of a tinting) comes over from another line and cuts right in front of me! I’m like, “Niet! Niet!” Thinking, WTF is this lady doing?! She points to the lady in front of her and says something that I can only surmise is, “I’m with her.” Which is complete BS, for the record.

I’ve been standing in lines for 3 hours and really don’t want to get kicked out of train station for arguing with a little old lady, so I’m like, “Whatever”…which translates to rolling eyes with a disappointed face.

Our line isn’t moving fast anymore, and about 5 minutes later the little lady with the purple hair goes back to her original line. Problem solved.

I get to the ticket counter and slide my note and passport through the tray2 to the ticket lady. She takes a couple of seconds to read my note, then types some stuff on the computer. She turns the screen around to show me the departure, arrival, and price. It’s about 300 more rubles than I want to pay, but I’m honestly too tired to argue…not that it would do any good at this point. So I nod, “Da,” and get my ticket.

She prints it out. I look it over to make sure it looks okay and then head back on the metro.

I’m feeling a bit rushed at this point because Eric and Casper are leaving and I want to say goodbye before they take off. Fortunately, they’re running a bit late and I catch them in my terminus station buying tickets

We exchange contact information, say our goodbyes, and go on our way. Eric and Casper off on the Trans-Siberian; me to my bed.

  1. I’m actually not sure if that’s what she said, it was all in Russian. And that last little bit is the critical parts of the instructions that tells us where to go, but that we didn’t get that part 

  2. Side note on the the tray: Every business has a tray. You never really hand or get money directly from the person. It always goes to the tray first. I have no idea why…and I often forget to do it 

Dateline: Moscow, Day 5

Moscow, Russian Federation
7 June 2009

Today was a bit of a down day. I made a list a of the last few places that I wanted to visit. It basically boiled down to the Central Armed Forces Museum and the Cosmonaut Museum. There where some other things that I could have done, but Moscow has begun to wear on me.

Since the Central Armed Forces Museum is closed on on Monday and Tuesday and the Cosmonauts Museum is only closed on Tuesdays1, I decided to go to the Central Armed Forces Museum today.

With the Brits (Kate, Lizzy, Tom, Gary, and Ryan) off on their Trans-Siberian adventure and Eric and Casper already gone for the day, I ventured off by myself. Heading north, I caught the metro. I was trying to be cool and minimize walking, so I took the green line to the brown line and attempted to get off at Dostoevkaja. However, the station was still under construction, so I ended up getting dropped off at Prospekt Mira; this ended up being about the same travel distance to the museum as if I had just walked to from the hostel. Oh well.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

The museum itself was rather awesome, however it looked like it was in desperate need of funding. Several of the attractions inside were incomplete and the outside looked very poorly taken care of, a shame considering the amount of history present. The museum also had a small but impressive (to me) collection of paintings. Note: I’ll have photos of the museum up later, I have close to 100 pictures and want to get some more critical stuff posted first.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

I walked back to the hostel in under 30 minutes, seeing yet another part of the city new to me. On the way back, I stopped briefly in a park. There was party of some sorts going on, perhaps for a wedding. Everyone was dressed nicely and drinking vodka. Drunk Russian sounds almost exactly the same as drunk English.

For tonight, we decided to hit the town. There’s a bar and grill called Papa’s Place that also has a basement club. Casper and I went down there with Max, Jared, Evan, and Ryan, who are all super awesome engineering students who graduated from CU Boulder! They’re flying from Denver to Rwanda to work on a water sanitation project, and taking an extended layover to attempt Mt. Elbrus (they were unable to successfully summit due to weather) and visit Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The club was pretty empty, at least according to Casper. We had a couple of beers and then Max joined us (he had to finish up laundry and then biked down on his rental). We ended up just shooting the shit. Around 5 am, we (Casper, and probably me) were almost scammed by some Russians. The club had closed, so they booted us upstairs to the bar and grill (which is open 24/7)2. I found Casper already upstairs; arm wrestling with some Russian dude.

Evan and Ryan had already left, and Max and Jared and I wanted to leave. Casper wanted to stay though, as he was talking with some cute Russian girls. I agreed to stay with Casper, since I didn’t want him staying by himself.

Not even five minutes later, we’re siting at a table with black-label alcohol being shoved in our direction. I politely decline. Casper does not. I strongly urge Casper that it’s time to go

Only a few minutes later, Max and Jared come back. They were outside chatting with some other Russian girls. They somehow figure out we were getting scammed and had come back to save our asses…literally. This is how you can find yourself out 10000 roubles. So I owe them one.

Max throws away the empty beer bottle he had in his back pocket and we head back to the hostel. It’s almost seven in the morning by time I crawl into bed. Lesson learned…and not the hard way.

  1. which I later found out is not true, it’s closed on Monday and Tuesday as well 

  2. Side note: same place that Ryan got lost at