When I arrived at the airport, I immediately started to worry. I could see the line for passport control, and it was massive. I dropped off my bags, and got in line, watching the time. The line was easily more than an hour long, I had 1:45 until take-off, and there was still security control + getting to/on the plane after passport control.
Luckily, after waiting about 30 minutes, someone near me asked if it was possible to go down to security at C and then walk back to the D gates. As soon as I heard “yes,” I power-walked faster than anyone else to get to C security, get through, and walk back toward the D gates. The small passport control gate for getting back into D at the Munich airport was rather surprised to see me and even more shocked when I told them there was a stampede coming behind me.
After this, I strode gracefully, no longer worried about time, and got my pulse to calm down.
The boarding process was a nightmare. I was seriously the only person on the plane who could figure out where the row numbers matched the seats, and they had to make an announcement for 99% of the plane to stand up and move back one row, because everyone was sitting in the wrong spot—everyone except me. This isn’t a joke. It’s an indictment of the plane layout and the common sense of German and Russian people on airplanes (or lack thereof). It was hilarious, though.
SkyTeam (Delta, AirFrance, AeroFlot, etc.) managed to botch the vegan meal I had confirmed 3 times, so that was another solid on their part. Guess who is losing my loyalty by the day.
When I arrived, I stood up in the aisle and got my bag down, like any normal person on any flight, but some rambunctious grandma decided I wasn’t “ready yet” and steamrolled past me, knocked me over, and got exactly 3 steps further ahead because of it. Congratulations, but I walked faster than her to passport control, so I’m not sure what she gained.
In another “there are rules!!” instance, the passport agent gave me a lecture about how the page in my passport next to the Russian visa is supposed to be left empty for stamps from Russia and HOW DARE Costa Rica & Nicaragua use this space. All I could tell her was, “I can’t control where other countries stamp. Just stamp somewhere else, and maybe have your government not put the visa on page 5 next time. Putting it toward the back would make this work better.” She gave me multiple lectures about how she shouldn’t be stamping on this other page, when I leave they will be confused, etc., but I already knew the net result: she was going to stamp the passport, she wanted to feel important, and I just had to take it. I still got in.
After getting cash, there’s a convenient Bus 30 that runs into the city to one of the stops on the Metro blue line, which is the line my hostel was on, so getting there was really convenient. Without intending to or noticing, I had booked a Cuba/Che Guevara-themed hostel, so it was super funny to be back in that. However, it’s a GREAT hostel. I had a lot of fun there.
The hostel is also near a vegetarian restaurant with lots of vegan options (Samadeva), so that was a huge perk, also.
The world hockey championships were in town, so lots of people at my hostel were visiting for that, plus the Victory Day holiday was coming up, so there was a lot of activity in the city. The buzz was really exciting. I went out to dinner with some of the guests & employees of the hostel the first night, then they wanted to go to this Fidel Castro/Cuba-themed bar, but I declined. When they realized I don’t drink alcohol, this awesome French guy promised to buy me a few Cokes, if I would come along, so I went. I stayed until the first drunk Russian girl spilled a drink on me, which was maybe an hour.
The next day, I set out to be a major tourist. I saw lots of beautiful churches, got kicked out of one for taking pictures, saw the winter palace & square outside it, historic monuments, and probably more. I was zipping all over town. The beauty of the architecture in St. Petersburg is amazing. I also saw the obligatory Lenin statue. That evening, I went to check out the Peter & Paul fortress, and I was surprised to find a huge, beautiful mosque nearby. That really surprised me in such a pro-Church country.
The next morning was the Victory Day celebration, and I went out early to get a good spot for the parade with a German guy from the hostel. We followed the crowds, thinking they were going to a good spot. We wound up at the worst spot. Not only could we barely see from the crowds, but the Palace Square is the wrong place to go. We wanted the parade with tanks & missile trucks & stuff like that, but we got a few soldiers marching around & a speech from some General. Boring. We also became quite a hit with the people in the crowd, when they realized we weren’t Russian (in a smart move, the German guy didn’t tell them he was German but pretended to be from the US, like me). Despite understanding nothing of what they were saying, everyone talked to us non-stop. I just smiled and laughed when they did. We were a hit.
I spent the rest of the day doing more sightseeing and concluded the monotheism trilogy by visiting the central synagogue before heading to the monument to fallen soldiers in the defense of the city. It was super popular on Victory Day, of course, and there were thousands and thousands of flowers people had laid at the monument, big crowds, just a really awesome experience. Russians put everyone else to shame on their remembrance of those who died in WW2. If you have a relative who died in the war, you carry that person’s picture around all day as a tribute. There’s even a parade where all of these people march together in the afternoon.
That night, there were fireworks planned, so we rounded up a few people & one of the hostel employees to go watch. Once there, we were joined by an American and a Brit, who are living in St. Petersburg teaching English, and we all went to a bar afterward to talk. Again, “get a Coke but not stay long” turned into something much more. I should also add that, while walking to the bar, we saw someone driving a WW2 motorcycle with side car & machine gun mounted on the front, and we discussed how quickly the US police would show up, shoot you for driving this around, and ask questions after you were dead.
The owner of the bar, Andrey, sat with us after a while and started flirting with one of the girls a little too much (he’s at least 60). Everyone decided I would pretend to be her boyfriend, to get him to calm down, but it barely meant anything to him. He started giving us free vodka and beers (and Coke) and soup and telling stories. He was really nice (a little too nice to the one girl), and we finally left when one of the female employees chased us out with a broom. That was almost 3am. The sign outside says they close at 11pm. Hahaha.
At this point, everyone was wide awake, so we decided we’d pull through to watch sunrise over the water (which I wasn’t aware is on the “top things to do in St. Petersburg” list), so we went dancing for a while before getting 2 taxis out to the edge of the water. Of course, the 2 taxis didn’t stick together, no one in mine spoke Russian, our phones didn’t work, so we never found the other people. The sunrise was pretty, but I didn’t even remember to take any pictures, because I was concentrating on not falling asleep, staying warm, and looking at the sunrise, not on getting pictures. Oops.
The 15-minute walk back to the hostel from here seemed like it took forever. It was chilly, and we were super tired. The next day would be my last in St. Petersburg, so I still needed to get up at a decent time to pack, see some last things, and check out to head to the train station. I fell asleep hard and fast, but someone’s phone kept going off, and I didn’t remember to set my alarm, so I got up late and had to skip the sightseeing I wanted to do.
After lunch, I went to the train station for my express train to Moscow. Goodbye, St. Petersburg. Thanks for the amazing memories!
Vegan food reviews: Samadeva is great. Look for items with the green “vegan” sign, but they also put honey in some of those, so you have to ask if it has “mjod.” Ukrop is OK but not amazing. Horizontal & Veggie Box at the Loft Project in the southeast part of the city are really awesome. It’s an artsy area where all of the shops/cafes are built in shipping containers. I really liked both of them. Horizontal is all vegan, and the seitan/tofu/falafel wrap is intense; Veggie Box is vegetarian but has some great “hardcore vegan pizza” and desserts.
Next post: Moskva.