I like having a trip planned that I can look forward to. In spring I asked my boyfriend where he’d like to go and he asked for a shortlist, so I did just that. On that list I had Istanbul and Cappadocia in Turkey, Tokyo in Japan, Lisbon in Portugal, Santorini in Greece and Saint Petersburg and Moscow in Russia. Out of all these he chose Saint Petersburg and Moscow. I myself was born in Saint Petersburg and lived there for 10 years after which we moved to Helsinki. My boyfriend has never been to Russia before, so I guess he wanted to see the country in the company of someone, who speaks Russian. 🙂
This time I did some research beforehand and we decided not to fly at all during this trip. Instead we would take the Allegro train to Saint Petersburg (3,5 hours), the Sapsan train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow (4 hours), and the Leo Tolstoy overnight train from Moscow back to Helsinki (14 hours). Trains would be a more environment-friendly option, which is rare if you want to get anywhere from Finland. 🙂
You can book train tickets maximum 60 days prior to departure, so I had to be patient for a month or so and then I booked tickets basically as soon as I could, so I got the tickets for a good price. The train ticket from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg cost 28,98€ per person and the departure was at 11:00 from Helsinki Central Railway Station and arrival at 14.36 at Saint Petersburg Finlyandskiy Railway Station. I bought the tickets via VR Group and I got the tickets e-mailed to me right after the payment. The train ticket from Saint Petersburg to Moscow can be bought from Russian Railways site and I paid with my credit card. The only issue was that I didn’t get the tickets emailed to me, but rather I had to sign in with my newly created account and download them from the site. The tickets were for high-speed Sapsan train and cost 40,99€ per person. There were several Sapsan train departures per day and there were also slower trains, which were also cheaper. The train departed at 15:10 and arrived in Moscow at 19:15. And finally I booked tickets for the Leo Tolstoy train also via VR, but you can do it also via Russian Railways. It didn’t occur to me to compare prices, but I assume they’re the same. We decided to go for first class tickets as we didn’t want to share the train cabin and as we were really early with our booking, we got an ok price of 108,78€ per person. If you buy the ticket closer to the departure, I think that it’ll cost approx. 40€ more per ticket. The train departed from Moscow at 23:00 and arrived in Helsinki at 13:17 the next day.
I also booked hotels and train advance and it was surprising to find out that the hotels in Saint Petersburg were more expensive than the ones in Moscow. I always assumed that Moscow is way more expensive in everything. After some research and price comparison I booked Crowne Plaza Ligovskiy in Saint Petersburg and Mercure Arbat in Moscow. We also changed some money in advance. Everything was ready.
We left for Saint Petersburg as scheduled and the tickets were checked on the train. The customs checks were also conducted on a moving train and it wasn’t much of an issue as we were two people traveling with light suitcases. If people were traveling with heavier luggage the Russian customs asked some questions as to what people were carrying. We were traveling in a train car with a lot of Chinese people, whose tour guide was nowhere to be found, so there was a lot of commotion and some issues with paperwork and because not the Chinese nor the Russians spoke that much English at the arrival in Saint Petersburg they were yelling “China sit Down!” as everybody else were allowed to exit the train. The Finlyandskiy Station (Финляндский вокзал) is very close to the metro station Ploshchad Lenina (Площадь Ленина). You exit the station and turn left and look for the M-sign. The metro in Saint Petersburg works with token coins (one ride = one token) and there are always cashiers at every station, but to avoid queuing every time, we bought ten of them at the same time for the price of 320 rubles (5,35€)*.
If you don’t know where you’re going one excellent help is the Yandex Metro app, which I downloaded on my phone along with offline maps of Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Yandex app works in English and in Russian and you select the station you’re at and the station you want to get to and the app illustrates it on the metro map. It is very useful and we used it all the time.
So one of the reason I chose the Crowne Plaza in Saint Petersburg is that it is close to metro station Ploshchad Vosstaniya (Площадь Восстаия) but also to the Saint Petersburg Glavniy Station from where our train to Moscow would depart, so the trips with suitcases would be as easy as possible. We got to the hotel quite easily and the check in was really quick. Also the hotel room turned out to be really nice and the extra touch were the bathrobes, which I absolutely love. 🙂
According to the Russian law, your visa must be registered within 7 business days upon arrival to the Russian Federation. The hotel takes care of it and they charged us a fee of 200 rubles (3,30€).
After we left our suitcases at the hotel we headed out to grab something to eat. I did some research beforehand and we walked to a place called Na parah (На парах), which means “On steam”, so they do in fact prepare all the food by steaming, which sounded like an interesting concept. I ordered the tuna salad, my boyfriend ordered okroshka, which is a Russian cold soup, and then we also ordered manti to share. Manti are a type of dumplings from Caucasian and Central Asian cuisine. The lunch cost us 1300 rubles (21,70€) including tip. Tipping is not mandatory, but of course appreciated.
After lunch we decided to walk along the Nevsky Prospekt main street.
Until we reached the Griboedov Canal and spotted the The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, where we of course wanted to see up and close.
The church was built from 1883 till 1907. After the Russian revolution in 1917, the church was looted and severely damaged. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. Also during the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, which lasted 2 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 5 days, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered additional significant damage during that time. After the war, as the Soviet government didn’t take kindly to religion, the church was further used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes. The church was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a place of worship, but is a Museum of Mosaics.
We of course wanted to go inside, but it turns out that the church-museum has a day off and that day is of course Wednesday. On other days it is open from 10:30 until 18:00. So we had to continue walking. When we turned around the corner we noticed The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines, which we were planning on visit, so this was as good a time as any. The museum was located in the courtyard.
The entrance fee was 450RUB (7,50€). The entrance fee included an ample amount of 15 kopek coins, which could be used for playing the arcade machines. You can buy more coins at the ticket desk, but for us the amount we got with the entrance ticket was enough. The museum is open daily from 11:00 until 20:00.
After the museum we headed towards the Winter Palace, which was from 1732 to 1917 the official residence of the Russian monarchs, but nowadays it forms part of the complex of buildings housing the Hermitage Museum. The square in front of the Winter palace is known as the Palace Square and in the middle of the square is the Alexander Column, which was erected after the Russian victory in the war with Napoleon’s France. The column is named for Emperor Alexander I, who ruled the country from 1801 until 1825.
After that we headed back to the hotel to get a bit of a break before heading for the restaurant CoCoCo. I called the restaurant and made the reservation for the same evening, which is probably a smart thing to do as the restaurant was almost full on a Wednesday night. The restaurant serves food made with local ingredients with a twist and we had a really nice evening and some great food there. Also local food is quite an interesting concept considering how large Russia is. 🙂 There was also Russian wine, which was surprisingly good, especially the white wine.
This dinner cost us 6100 rubles (100€) + tip, so it’s a bit on the expensive side by Russian standards, but the food was excellent and we had a couple of glasses of wine each as well. We felt that the experience was worth the price.
We were so tired after the restaurant that we asked the restaurant staff to call us a taxi. The way the taxi system works in Saint Petersburg is that you call the taxi company of your choice (and there seems to be hundreds of them) and tell them from where you are traveling and what is your final destination. Then the person on the phone tells you how long it’ll take for the taxi to arrive and how much it’ll cost, so there is no surprise at the end of the trip, but there are also no taxi meters. Our three-day experience with taxis in Saint Petersburg has proved that the taxi prices are generated completely randomly as the approximately same trip cost anywhere from 300 to 800 rubles. 😀 This trip cost us 500 rubles (8,30€).
* Russian currency exchange rate has been up and down in the past years and at the time of our visit you could get 60 rubles for one euro.