Russian Trip 2011

My original plan was to write a post for each day and apparently this would be too time consuming and I have to succumb to the force of time LOL, 10 posts condensed into the current post.

My departure was:
CX 207 (31 May 2011) from HKG to Moscow Domodedovo.

There are 3 airports at Moscow and CX only fly to Domodedovo. There are airport express equivalent (i.e. aeroexpress) going to Moscow town centre – Paveletsky station, which is a metro station as well. During our time of travel, MasterCard was offering a discount on the aeroexpress tickets.

First impression was that it seemed to be a lot safer than what I had heard but of course, remain alert is key in a metro station full of tourist. Just try yourself to blend in 🙂

We weren’t sure how long it would take to get to the train station for St Petersberg’s train, so we decided to go to that station first. Again, a metro station (i.e. Komsomol’skaya) is connected to the train station (i.e. Leningradskiv). This turned out to be a great decision as there were 3 train stations and no English signs were there.

One thing came to our attention so far was that it is extremely difficult to find a person that can speak English at basic level, even at the airport. We tried to buy phone sim card at the airport and took us almost an hour to get our points across.

As we got our tickets online (again trekking through muddy water of their rzd Russian site to register and purchase the tickets online), it requires a redemption of actual tickets before boarding. Unless you could read Russian, again you have to redeem tickets at counter since the redemption machine is in Russian only. Again, they don’t usually speak English, so it is highly recommended to buy tickets online and redeem it at train station. Their official website has English version but no online purchase is allowed, so you must buy it at the Russian version site. You may also use agents but the mark-up is about 100%. My own view is that going through the whole process of booking it from their Russian site is fun and a great experience. Why not giving it a go?

Our train to St Petersberg wasn’t the Sapsan train made by Spanish but it was also an express and only took us about 20 minutes longer than the Sapsan. They serve food and drink on train and it’s not prohibitive expensive. We paid RU50 for a bottle of water.

Scenery along the route is great and I did enjoy it a lot. Tranquility is something you would find if you take it all in. The train we took had several stops but it was very punctual. In case you don’t know, trains in Russia are very punctual since the operator’s salary is directly linked to the punctuality.

St Petersberg train station (i.e. Moskovskiy vokzal) is also linked to a metro station (i.e. Ploshchad Vosstaniya). In St Petersberg, if you’re carrying luggage, you need 2 coins to travel (i.e. 1 coin is for your luggage).

We stayed at Courtyard Marriott Vasilievsky, which is by the river – reka Mal Neva, and within walkable distance to various sight-seeing point. A metro station is about 7 mins walk from the hotel.

During our stay in St Petersberg, we visited Peter and Paul Fortress, Winter Palace, Alexander Column, Railing of Summer Garden (Summer Garden was under renovation when we visited), Mosque of the Congregation of Muslems, Rostral Columns, Birzha, the Admiralty, the Church of Spilled Blood, a few monuments and catherdals. I won’t comment much on these points of interest as you really have to be there to experience.

One suggestion I would give – WALK WALK and WALK. We walk in average 10 hours a day and you can really soak up the atmosphere etc. Another suggestion – bring a map with both English and Russian language.

Food are great in St Petersberg and we never had a single meal that was bad, except a soup we ordered at a 24 hours cafe but other items were great at that cafe. It is more common for them to have English menu, compared to Moscow, even at the cheap 1. A restaurant highly recommended was the Kafe Lagidze, serving Georgian food. It was visited by locals and Georgian a lot.

People are friendly and to be honest, I felt even safer there than when I am in Mongkok. Nothing to be afraid of, just do what the Russians do.

On the way back to Moscow, we took the overnight train and a 1st class room was booked. The room wasn’t spacious but newly retrofitted. It was clean and had two pillows for each bed. I personally find that 2nd class is unacceptable as 4 ppl fitting into such a small (they are of the same size of ours). I ain’t sure if all trains have been retrofitted but the one we took was impossible for someone to open the lock from outside. No safety concern at all. Someone will wake you up when it’s 5-10 minutes before arriving the destination. Both of us slept well and it was a fun experience.

The hotel we stayed at Moscow was Renaissance Moscow Hotel. About 5-10 minutes walk from Metro – Prospekt Mira and the lobby has recently been renovated. It also has free shuttle to red square and pushkin square. Lufthansa, Emirates and Singapore Airlines are using this hotel for their crews too.

People are stone-face but surprising helpful too. Don’t get intimidated or offended by that. One interest story was that we got on a wrong bus at a mega mall when we left, which we risked our lives of going there (literally as we ran across highway exits >_

One interesting observation is that locals enjoyed outdoor even when it was freezing and restaurants did provide blankets for you to keep yourself cozy and warm.

Pushkin museum is a must-visit, so is the Armoury and Red Square. BTW, don’t line up just because you see people lining up. That’s the hint I could give you and it’s up to you to transform it into something more useful LOL

If you wanna feel the Soviet atmosphere, St Petersberg isn’t for you as you don’t really see many buildings in such style. Moscow, however, have quite a number. White building, former KGE headquarter etc. Maybe that’s why people don’t smile in Moscow as they were taught so back then.

St Petersberg, however, is more liberal and in many cases, you feel like you are in France. I personally enjoy both cities a lot but I could be more relaxed in St Petersberg for sure.

One thing I must repeat – BE THE LOCAL… I wasn’t polite at ticket booth etc… just as the local did. I didn’t smile in Moscow either unless taking photos. No police, soliders etc ever pestered me at all even we bumped into a few of them.

It was a great trip and I will go back to Russia for sure!