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Visiting Kata in St Petersburg - part 1

Pictures are at the bottom...

Holidays! Going to a great big far away mysterious land with a beautiful girl to lead me astray in strange places. Heaven!

A full day's travel, stopping in Copenhagen then Riga. Copenhagen was a nice clear sunny day, so I sat outside the airport and ate my sandwhiches and read my book. I have no time for petty danes and their refusal to accept my money. I cast ye to the dogs. My money is going to mother russia. Putin loves me. Maybe.

Riga airport has a quite decent transit lounge. If you're transitting through to Russia, DO NOT go through passport control. The gate on the other side is a worthless little shack. Stay in the transit lounge!

But eventually, Ст. Петербург! or St Petersburg for the cyrillically challenged :) Nervous immigration with my "official" yet still dodgy visa [1] but smoothly out into the wild where Kata was waiting for me. The start of the fun!

But first, some food! After a long day of travel, I needed some nutritious goodness to fuel a night of action. Macdonalds! Perfect. The iconic russian institution, serving up good old Биг Мак and... hangon?! What do they call a quarter pounder in russia? That's beside the point, the point is that other than the cyrillic, it's just like any other mcdonalds. Oh, well, apart from all the men in various military uniforms. And being charged for tomato sauce sachets. And being in the goddamn mother of all communist states, having the first macdonalds I'd had in probably three years! It was perfect. I was hungry. I was now fed, and we journeyed on, into the great st petersburg metro. Home to giant escalators, and trains that run every two minutes. But, two of those will go past while you're still riding the escalator down into the bowels of the earth. Down, down, and deeper down. Safe from the enemies above. Hitler had no chance!

Got the quick tour of the neighbourhood on the way back to Kata's place, then time to drop some bags, quick change of clothes, and off to see some nightlife. Having well educated locals on the task force ensured perfection. We pulled up stools in Fidel, a perfectly downtrodden bar on a side street off Nevsky. Beers, goosip, great music, some very quick russian lessons, and a general catch up. An excellent start!

But just the start!

The next day we went to the Hermitage, to do some nice cultural things with the weekday. One thing I'd noticed the night before, and continued to enjoy for the rest of the trip was all the stencils around town. Lots of pretty stencils! In english and russian, and some that were obviously pictures of people I didn't recognise. One thing I _didn't_ like was commercial stencils. Advertising a night club, political parties, hate groups, you name it.

But, the hermitage was cool. Some of it was just art, and like lots of art, what exactly makes rembrandt better than say, any of his peers whose names I've forgotten? But it wasn't just paintings. There were sculputres, new and old. There were egyptian artifacts. There was the building itself! Almost every room had it's own colour scheme, and in one room, we managed to get away from a lot of crowds, and I stepped into a bizzare pastel yellow, pink and blue world, with columns down a long room, and Kata at the far end, about to get eaten by a giant lion sculpture. Nothing but our own footsteps. Alone in the wonderland.

But, but. why do I keep starting sentences with but?

But! Wonderland was enormous, and we eventually got sore feet, though not before we'd found another wing that Kata in all her visits had never seen before, full of iranian fabrics and swords. We headed off in another direction, down millionaire's street, (that's it's real name) to look at some more buildings, and see some new things, before dinner at Kata's favourite Georgian restaraunt. Some fantastic Hatsapuri, a delicious cheesy bready thing, though the main I chose was overdosed with fresh cilantro unfortunately :)

Friday dawned grey and damp, basically like a bad day in Reykjavik, and no sea views. Great architecture though. I glossed over this earlier, but downtown St Petersburg has some fantastic buildings. The facades are all ornately decorated, with carvings and mouldings and well lit at night, really really pretty.

This was another walking day, so more poking our heads down alleys looking at graffiti, roaming the wild markets, admiring the fantastic furs fashions, eating strange street vendor food, and doing some shopping. I picked up some flying goggles and a flight helmet at the military academy shop, which added to my halloween costume.

That was the best part of friday. Friday was halloween, and Kata's friend Isaak had invited us to a halloween party at his house, right on Nevsky Prospekt. I'd made a costume almost a year before, for a party that fell through, so I brought an outfit with me on the plane, and I was really looking forward to wearing it. My fish gutting clothes were finally going to get used! Kata outdid herself as well, for someone who had no idea what to do in the morning, she pulled of an excellent gypsy fortune teller by the time we got to the party. Right down to fake gold teeth, rune stones and tarot cards. Frankie, Kata's friend from uni joined us, he was going to be one of the dj's for the evening, and we took off for some good russian mayhem.

Kata and I arrived as some of the best dressed guests, (we rule!) so by my count, there's quite a few videos and photos of me in the adoring arms of the locals. Kata had them all going with her fortunes, and we alllll had the passers by on the street below going as well :) Eventually, as all good parties do, it came to raw bottles of vodka, and further bars. We made it home without breaking ourselves too badly however, and still with all of our accessories! Cheers to Kata!

And so ends part 1 of my all to short stay in St Petersburg. Stay tuned for more!

[1] Russian visas are great fun. If you're visiting a friend, you can get a visa to visit a resident, which requires them to submit to two months of security testing and a quite expensive visa for you. If you're visiting and staying in a hotel, you can get a tourist invitation, which lets you get a normal tourist visa. Funnily enough, there are businesses that exist, (and have their posters up inside the russian embassy) that offer tourist invitations to come and stay, "in their hotel" though you had better not actually try and stay with them. There are also agencies that specialise in "registering" your visit after you arrive, but again, don't expect this to be a hotel. It's all very interesting, and roundabout, but seems to work just fine. I got my visa from waytorussia.net

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