Helen and Lee struggled to find the magic of the city. Shane found more in it, though we all agreed that it was austere. Lacking street trees, parks, sculptures, variety. It didn't help seeing it in grey weather.
Finding our hostel was frustrating, as usual. Travelling with PDF'd guidebooks has presented challenges - pulling out an iPad on the street and trying to read a map with features displayed in turquoise isn't our idea of easy navigation - just give us a bloody paper map! On top of this, there's the issue of hostel owners writing stupid directions. "Come out of the metro and turn right." And pray tell, which of the eight exits should we take, before we turn right? Piffle. At least Apple Hostel was worth the effort - well run, well located, clean, and welcoming. Lee made good friends with the lovely host Irenna - in no time at all they were sharing potato and cabbage recipes.
On day one it St P, on the back of a passing comment from another hosteller...firmed up by Shane's accidental deletion of our existing ferry ticket to Helsinki...Helen and Shane ventured off to book train tickets to a previously unconsidered destination - Tallinn, Estonia.
On day two we followed a less than impressive walking-tour route of the city. We managed to see the building in which Tchaikovsky died (indeed we took morning tea there), Pushkin's last home after he was killed in a duel (the building is supposedly protected by zealous babushkas, not in evidence), the house of authors Turgenev and Gogol, the Winter Palace (which finally managed to elicit some oohs and aahs from our party) and associated Hermitage buildings, canals, Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (more oohs), Kazan Cathedral and the Singer Building (fab).
Lee was impressed with having walked around 6-7 kms and we were once again impressed by her efforts.
Day three we visited the Hermitage National Museum comprising an eclectic mix of treasures from various countries and epochs. In a contained space, free from the perils of ice and snow (and road crossings, O'Brien family members only may nod understandingly at this reference) Lee delighted in striding out solo through the maze of exhibits. Freedom!
In the hall of Russian military commander portraits we played 'Spot the most ridiculous moustache / hairdo combo'.
Lee loved the Winter Palace (especially the malachite room) while the (very difficult to find) Siberian Antiquities won first prize from the Jeffs-O'Briens...
Chieftain from Siberia.
Horse headwear from Siberia (this one buried with owner).
This fur cloak and felt hat for a Siberian noblewoman was freaky. The arms of the cloak were like strange appendages, and wearing the hat would have required good balance - and hopefully a light wind.
The Siberian section of the museum just blew us all away. We saw mummified bodies, mummified horses, horse wear, log coffins, clothing, headwear...unlike we had seen before.
Don't you love it when you stumble across things like that?
In a week or so, Lee will be leaving the party as the Jeffs-O'Briens travel to Oslo to spend ten days with extra-special friends and Norwegian residents Cameron and Jan. We will all miss her greatly. Shane will not miss having to carry her luggage.
Shane, Helen, Rosie, Tom and Lee