At 6 a.m. the alarm clock tells us it’s time to start the adventure. We travel to Munich Airport to fly from there to Russia with Aeroflot. At the check-in, I book a cheap guesthouse in the heart of Saint Petersburg over the Internet. Allegedly they offered a pick-up at the airport, but no one was waiting for us there.
We received the entry stamp from a grim officer after three times an incomprehensible туристы? (Tourist) asked. Да, да, да! My Russian went that far. Uli could do a little more because he attended a language course.
And then we were in. Russia. The great empire, communism, the Soviet Union, Leningrad (which Saint Petersburg was at times), Putin, vodka, fur hats, Cyrillic letters and the stern faces of people, against whom every lump of granite seemed to radiate far more humor.
That’s exactly how it looked here. I felt like I was in a forbidden zone, as if every wrong step could lead to a wild James Bond chase.
We didn’t realize where all the people disappeared from the plane to. We got on the lonely shuttle bus that took us into town. Not many people came with us. The trip cost a few rubles, the equivalent of 70 cents. We met a digital nomad on the drive – a new breed of people who leave their homes to work on their travels. Our new friend was a journalist who wanted to write his latest reports from the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The bus drove through the city and the names of the companies were emblazoned in Cyrillic letters. I already knew the script a little and was able to practice straight away.
We stopped at a metro station to go downtown. I’ve never seen such an impressive subway. The splendor of communism, large Soviet stars adorned the ornate arches in gold.
It is also impressive that you have to drive 50 meters down to the tunnels.
Paying for the train is based on a different principle here. There are counters here where you can buy tokens for trips. One trip for each token, no matter where and how long you go. These were also very cheap.
We reached the Sataya (сатая) station in the center and quickly found the address of our accommodation. However, we did not find the accommodation.
It was a large block of flats with massive iron entrance doors in some places. However, there were no doorbell signs or other labels. Only a number console served as a bell. But where did we have to go? How did it work?
We asked in a stationery store in the same house. “Asking” means that I will repeat the name of the accommodation and hope for a sign of recognition. Vain. Luckily there was a booking confirmation in Cyrillic that I was able to show. The young woman in the shop dialed the associated phone number, but nobody answered. She shrugged her shoulders.
We walked around the block and through a courtyard with the luggage on our backs. The entrance had to be somewhere. In addition, the house numbers now differ from the address given to us. It had to be here. We were at a loss.
In front of the shop a lady noticed us who looked at us and then spoke to the young woman in the shop. Meanwhile, they kept looking at us. The lady went to the doorway we were standing in front of and tapped the number console. She seemed to have reached someone because she was talking to the device. After a short time the door opened for you, the lady nodded us to go in, turned around and left. Just because. Without smiling! We just called a спасибо afterwards, but she showed no reaction …
We entered the building and climbed the wide steps of the noble stairwell. Right on the first floor, a nose looked through the crack in a door that was slightly open, but was visibly secured with a chain.
The words were in Russian, but since we only had rucksacks with us instead of weapons and didn’t seem very Russian, it was enough to trust us to let in.
I looked at a fat young man in a white t-shirt. Uli saw a fat young woman. So we found out later. In any case, it didn’t speak any English and didn’t seem to know anything.
But Google Translator and hands and feet helped. Nobody here had heard of Bookings.com – at least not you or him. Because there was nobody else here.
The style in the pension looked like an old, rundown, splendid apartment of a communist bigwig. We were shown different rooms and two bathrooms in the hallway. There were no guests and no one else except our embarrassed grinning host.
We got a room and when asked whether we would rather pay now or later, we would rather wait if in doubt. We never saw her or him again. Every day we saw a different man who lived in a closet and cleaned the bathroom for us. There were never any other guests.
Maybe the clothes could tell us about our host. As we noticed and should be confirmed, Russian women are very beautiful and always well dressed. Exactly the opposite is true of men. It was apparently particularly masculine to deliberately whistle for every sense of taste and to attract the attention of the ladies with jogging outfit, jewelry and sunglasses.
We quickly unloaded our things and hurried to use the last light of the setting sun to discover Saint Petersburg. The city on the Niva showed itself from its most beautiful side and the stately townhouses on the countless canals were bathed in soft orange.
We escaped the canals and came to the Newska Prospect. Every major street is called a prospectus. We passed the Hermitage to the Niva with all its bridges. At night these were gradually opened for the ships, which was considered a tourist highlight.
Next to a church we see a kiosk. Unfortunately it was already closed, but curiously enough you could buy cigarettes as well as rifles and pistols. As simple as that.
The moon was also weighed in us when it appeared in full size over the houses after leaving the sun. After we had satisfied our first hunger for photos, it was time for a culinary journey of discovery. However, it was not easy to find a Russian restaurant. Chinese and Georgian in particular seemed very popular.
In the end we found a good restaurant where we just wanted to try everything.
We tried food and vodka, pelmini and fish soup, plov, borscht, soljanka and manti.
We followed the bank of the Niva and continued to take photos of the illuminated bridges until we fell tiredly into bed in our empty accommodation.
Couchsurfing gave me an interesting invitation from a young Russian woman to her dacha, far outside of Saint Petersburg.
How can you say no? Uli and I are on our way the next day.