Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Eurotrip 2012 - Day 6 (6/20) - Peterhof

Our hotel stay included breakfast, and it was served with a personal touch - which is easy to do when you only have 5 rooms. We made arrangements the night before to have it served around 10 AM. Our host brought in the tray to our room at about 10:15. On it were two identical meals that each consisted of 2 small pancakes (i.e., thick pancakes, not crepes) with cream, a berry pastry, a tiny wedge of cheese, and a cup of yogurt. We had already finished getting dressed, so we ate and then were soon on our way. That day was the first pants day of the trip, as the temperature was a bit cooler - around 60 °F.

Our plan for the day was to see the Peterhof palace estate in Petergof, which is about 20 miles west of the city center. We had read that a fun way to get there was by hydrofoil boat, which departed from the river dock by the Hermitage and the Winter Palace. We took the metro down there, and after a quick stop at the Admiralty Gardens to admire the bears some more, we found where the hydrofoils normally left. However, the boats were not operating that day because it was too windy and the water was too choppy. We initially contemplated trying a different boat company, but returned to ask one of the girls out front how to get to Petergof by train. She told us to take the metro to Avtovo. When we got to the metro station and looked at the map, we noticed that there was no train station at the Avtovo stop, though there was one a couple of stops away from there. We asked one of the policemen on duty, and he also directed us to Avtovo and said that we could take a bus from there to Petergof. Since their stories seemed to match up, we hopped on the metro and headed over.

Once we reached Avtovo, though, we were completely clueless what to do next. We weren't quite expecting a big bus terminal with flashing signs for Peterhof (in English), but since that wasn't the case we didn't know what to do. There was indeed a bus stop there (with both regular and mini buses stopping fairly frequently) but we saw no signage (that we could read, at least) for Peterhof. We spent the next 20 minutes aimlessly circling between the metro and bus stop, silently hoping that someone would help us out. I finally went inside one of the cafes (from the Teaspoon chain, which we had dined at the night before) and asked one of the servers how to get there. She told me to cross the street and take a bus on the other side. Sure enough, pretty soon after we emerged from the tunnel which crossed under the street there were people selling rides to Peterhof. We hopped on the first minibus that offered a ride, and then rode about 20 minutes to the palace entrance.

After arriving at the palace grounds, we crossed through the upper garden to the ticket counter. We couldn't get there without a picture request, though - I forgot to expect this when visiting tourist attractions where people are walking around with cameras. We bought tickets and then entered to explore the lower garden (which extends out to the bay) for a while. We also had some more "Russian pancakes" for lunch - this time going with the savory (chicken, cheese, and bacon) and sweet (chocolate and banana) combination suggested by Joe and a Mirinda (which is starting to rival Fanta as my favorite travel soda). We then went in search of the Pyramid Fountain, which Joe found, and then headed up to buy tickets for the Grand Palace. The palace was pretty impressive, though the (unguided) tour seemed a bit short. We also could not take pictures or videos, and had to wear slippers over our shoes.

After the tour we headed back toward the street and took a minibus on the other side back to Avtovo, and then the metro back toward the hotel. On the walk back to the hotel we stopped at a Pizza Hut to pick up a couple of small pizzas for carry-out. We took them back to the hotel where Joe immediately at his while I saved mine for a bit since I wasn't hungry - it was about 6 PM at this time. I eventually ate half of mine about an hour later, then we went out in search of some ice cream around 7:30. We couldn't find a proper creamery (though Joe thought he had seen one), so we settled for some pre-wrapped ice cream instead. After this, Joe went back to the hotel room while I took a stroll around the area. I walked through the neighborhood and stopped by a small park where there were some good pick up soccer games being played, in addition to some basketball, gymnastics, working out, and boxing/martial arts. I then walked down to Nevskiy Prospekt, headed west, and then cut back up and around to the hotel. I got back around 10, lounged around, finished my pizza, then went to bed at midnight.

Observation of the day: Sunrise in St. Petersburg on this day was officially at 4:36 AM and sunset was at 11:27 PM, yielding 18 hours and 51 minutes of daylight. There was still some light out at midnight, though.

Bonus observation: In general we've been able to get by alright without speaking a word of Russian. Most people who you deal regularly with tourists (e.g., at ticket counters or in restaurants) know enough English to fulfill our requests or help us out. Some are even apologetic when they don't speak English. It's a little more hit or miss with police officers, and then the general population mostly seems to not speak any English.

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