St. Petersburg was a lot bigger than I expected. apparently, only London, Moscow and Istanbul are bigger within geographical Europe. My host lived a little out of the centre, which meant I had to travel for about 1 hour to any touristic place in St. Petersburg. Also St. Petersburg is a quite European city. Especially down town doesn’t look that unfamiliar or different. It is just really big. Big roads and lanes, huge shopping malls and high apartment buildings, in European style.
What I liked about St. Petersburg (except for the touristic stuff like a lot of nice beautiful churches and musea), were the secret entrances in the apartment blocks. At first sight, you would think these entrances are leading to apartments, parking lots or private courtyards… but often you can find really nice cafes, bars, expositions, museums or even clubs hidden behind the buildings. Most tourists don’t enter, because most of the time the places are not marked on google maps nor are there signs at the entrance, but I was lucky to meet some Russians who took me or told me where to go. In this way, I found the most cosy (and cheapest) drinks and food and a cool art gallery where I almost got lost because it had so many floors. I think I could stroll around for hours in this city, just to find all these places.
Moscow is even more gigantic than St. Petersburg. Everything is bigger, and more majestic. The streets, the buildings, the lights, the houses, the parks, the squares and the churches (which are now often strangely surrounded by modern buildings). Sometimes I had to walk for 1,5 km to be able to cross the street, because some streets have 3 lanes (on each side) and do not have zebra crossings or lights. Moscow is a business city… So there is a lot of traffic. And you will notice that. In your lungs. I was constantly tired and my friend Sam had problems with his health too… One step outside in the city centre and you can smell the gas. If you see the smog of the cars driving around you can see why…
In Moscow, I was not feeling too well, so that might be a reason why I didn’t like it that much. Nevertheless, it was really interesting to see this city. It is glamorous, but in a way I haven’t seen before. A combination of glamorous and majestic. The glamour you can find in the shiny lights in every park and above the streets as if it were Christmas. Well dressed people and expensive cars. Giant shopping malls or shops which look like palaces… Huge billboards and screens on the tall skyscrapers in the city centre, like I would think to find in New York or Tokyo. The majestic part emerges in the amount of statues and other ornaments in the city. The underground stations are a good example for this. No colourful street art like in Stockholm, but marble floors and ceilings, stained glass, gold, paintings and statues. I cannot count the number of Lenin images I saw in what form soever.
Moscow VS. St. Petersburg
In general, I found St. Petersburg and Moscow quite modern and western. More than I expected or people warned me for. The people often speak English, the big amount of orthodox churches doesn’t mean shops are closed after a certain time, or on Sundays. Everything is open, metro’s go until 1 and I never felt unsafe (okay, except for the one time I had to walk home from a metro station at 12:30 AM through a deserted suburb…).
One of the coolest experiences I had in these cities: A time cafe. I heard about this concept in St. Petersburg, but I only had a chance to go there when I was in Moscow. It is a cafe where you pay per minute, up to a maximum amount. Tea, coffee and coockies are unlimited. The one I went to had a piano, wifi, a lot of different types of tables or couches, plugs and even a kitchen where you could prepare your own food. A perfect co-working place. And that was what I needed, because I found a travel mate for the Trans-Siberian Railway! Through couchsurfing I found that a German guy Samuel (from now on Sam) was doing more or less the same track as I was going to do, so I wrote him to see if we could figure something out. And we figured something out. So the co-working we did, consisted of booking trains and planning the trip from Moscow to the far east of Russia. Let the Trans-Siberian adventure start!
Some photos of the two cities below.