22.02.2010 - 22.02.2010 -14 °C
So up ok we tried the apricot stone again since it was convenient and by convenient I meant we didn't have to venture in to the cold for too long since nearly every ledge or balcony had big arsed icicles hanging from them but more about them later. I was a bit more adventurous this time trying what we thought was a fritatta kind of thing but turned out to be a kind of porridge, watery and resembling rice pudding but was good and of course I got my complimentary toast. Jo had got a tourist map from a travel book so using that and our keen sense for adventure we set off in the direction of the main sights as in St Issac's and the Hermitage. Weather had improved today, still bitterly cold but we could see what we were doing and everyone else for that matter so within a few minutes we were doing the touristy thing and stood out like sore thumbs. Richard also pointed out the fact that you didn't see many ginger Russians so he was like our foreign beacon if you will. There was a lot of snow around, more than I've ever seen before, the roads were clean but that's because they'd just stuck the snow anywhere there was a gap. There were also what we guessed were council workers shifting the snow but it was a never ending battle, there was truck after truck going by. We also noticed this red and white hazard tape tied round posts and buildings, we avoided it as you would with any hazard but didn't know what they were for but all would be revealed. It took about twenty minutes to get to St Issac's and it was worth it, a large open square with a statue then the building behind that. We were all a bit wary about taking pictures after being told horror stories about Russian police and being put in prison but after seeing a load of Russian tourists do it we did. This is also the spot where we had our first proper encounter with Russian traffic and its lack of rules which our Honcho would hopefully enlighten us to. We didn't fancy going inside the Cathedral and since the Colonnade at the top was cheaper we opted for that as our first kind of group activity. We took a lot of stairs and since they were spiraled a few of us got a tad disorientated but we made it. The views were brilliant, St Petersburg isn't a massive city as in coverage but neither is it a tall city. Most buildings won't extend over 6 or 7 floors so you can see everything and that's good for an old city. After there we walked to the Hermitage and Admiralty but didn't want to enter as we knew it'd be a feature on our trip so we walked to the frozen river and canals they were good, especially seeing dogs walking on them. Taking a different route back we think we entered St Petersburgs more plush area, fancy bars and shops gave it away. We did find an 'English' cloakroom which me and Helen investigated. Opening the door to find a set of stairs down, a dodgy looking bloke and a clothes rack didn't exactly add up lets just say it was no spoons so we opted for the Xay3 coffee shop or Me'n'u as we came to call it after Catherine's misunderstanding with the old Russian alphabet. This was good but people weren't too keen on the cottage cheese pancakes I had but they did like the real hot chocolate which was what we needed after the cold.
So finding our way back easy enough we saw a young, blonde girl with vodka-train papers floating around in reception. We immediately thought this to be our Honcho but it was not to be although I think she would've done a spiffing job. This was Lizzy from Dullwich who'd just arrived. We then had our welcome meeting where we met Rosie and Diane from Frome and finally our Honcho, Wowa a student studying in St Petersburg. We did the formalities of paperwork then went out for some traditional Russian food. The restaurant turned out to be where we'd walked just three hours previous, in a nice part of the city near the Kazan Cathedral. I liked this place, they were all in old style clothes and it was decorated like an old house. Food was good, I had dumplings 'pelmeny' I think. Russians don't really do portions just to let you know. We have the veg and sauce and side food but nope Russians you get what you order but it did taste good. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their food so Wowa made sure we knew how to get home and he left. We got to know the new members and had a really good first night together the meal was a good ice breaker. We had some pyjama chat then slept. We had all moved rooms as well so I was now sharing with Richard which worked out alright since it was 6-2 in favour of the girls. But this was it, our group of 8 about to set off on the Vodkatrain. After all the preparation and people asking what will I do if this or that happens it didn't matter I was here and I was definitely with friends.
Although we did manage to tick off one of our floor neighbours at about one in the morning, whoopsy! He was a big lad too but I handled it, and Lizzy hid!!