My brother and me originally had something warm in mind, when we were looking for destinations and flights for our first trip together. Well, we ended up in Russia. I always thought my first trip to Russia would include a whirlwind tour from Moscow through Siberia to the far end of civilization in Wladiwostok. But we found a really reasonable fare for VIE-LED and I was totally hooked by the idea to get to visit a city that is cherished for its colossal cathedrals, beautiful landmarks and absolutely lovely winter wonderland. I just wished that not some bloody-cold-snow-blizzard kind of weather was looming around the corner waiting for us.

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Vince and me arrived at Pulkovo Airport in early afternoon and the first thing planned was to change money and then catch a bus and metro to the city centre. It took forever to change money, since there was only one exchange bureau and three men argued with the agent and gave her a hard time. Eventually we got our Rubels and then opted for a taxi, since it would take us directly to our hostel and cost about 4 euros more than the metro, so I was happy to splash a couple euros to get in the city faster.

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Cyrillic street sign and a frozen river

Saint Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and was the imperial capital of Russia. While now the capital is Moscow, St. Petersburg remains the cultural capital. There are several small islands, divided by waterways and connected through gigantic bridges all around town. The central part of town around Nevsky Prospekt is the only area, where you don’t need to have any ability to read the cyrillic alphabet.

Our hostel was located in a lively area next to Nevsky Prospekt. The founder of the ‘Baby Lemonade Hostel’ is probably a huge Pink Floyd Lover, as the whole place is Pink Floyd-themed. Each room is named after a song or an album, a lot of pictures hung around and the overall design and athmosphere was very clean and comfortable. We stayed in the “Ummagumma” room and even had drums and a guitar in the room. The sticks for the drums were missing though. (I can imagine why.) The common area includes all that is important for a lively hostel. Open kitchen, relax areas, music, sofas and staff that enjoys working there and meeting people from everywhere. This design hostel was superb and I’d be happy to stay there again.

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The Sunny Side of the Moon in ‘Baby Lemonade Hostel’

At first we were struck with the best winter weather Russia has to offer. Cold, then rain, then snow and still cold. We could literally see only with a glimpse of our eyes and so we made the best out of it and visited heaps of cathedrals and churches, where we defrosted and dried up for the way to the next sight. When we thought it couldn’t get any worse, we were on our way to the largest art gallery in the world, the famous Hermitage State Museum, to soak up history and art until the weather would be more bearable. Well, in front of the Hermitage we saw it is closed on Mondays! Go figure!

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In front of the Peter & Paul Cathedral

We had coffee and cheese cake instead and waited for improving weather in the afternoon. Someone up there has send us some love and as soon as it looked like snow would stop any minute, we were already halfway on the other side of town before it cleared entirely up. Only one metro station away from Nevsky Prospekt is the Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island. It is only one station, but that one takes more than 5 minutes from one station to another. The citadel was founded by Peter the Great and was still used as a prison some decades ago. It is said, that there are undiscovered mass graves with thousands of people on the island, but I guess no one is allowed to search closely, so it will stay that way. Today it offers museums, the Peter and Paul Cathedral and amazing views. From the Island you could see the whole beauty of the Hermitage and a lot of the Inner city of St. Petersburg. Vince wanted to get a closer look, so we left the path and went outside of the Fortress and tapped right next to the frozen Neva River. It was probably not the smartest idea we ever had, but I had not the immediate feeling that we would break through and I would not have put my brother in danger if I thought there might be an actual chance of breaking through the ice.

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Frozen Neva River with the Eremitage in the back left

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Vince in front of the Fortress with the Russian double-headed eagle

While doing research I came across a story about beautiful, old underground palaces that were build for the people in St. Petersburg. These palaces should epitomize the glory, power and strength of the Soviet Union. Nowadays these palaces are used as stations for the Red Nr. 1 Metro Line. The other-worldly ‘Avtovo Station’ in the south of the City is the most fascinating one with its white marble, ornamental glass and a mosaic, dedicated to the Leningrad blockade. It definitely gave us an amazing feeling, because it doesn’t felt like a metro station at all. All the people were moving around, waiting for trains or walking by us and we were simply standing there, gazing at the sheer beauty and brilliance of the former Soviet Palace.

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Avtovo Station

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Another beautiful metro station

After moving around a lot we napped the rest of the afternoon and decided to go to Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant for dinner. I loved the design of the place and the food wasn’t exactly traditional russian, but it was delicious and we had a good time. So that’s fine.

Despite the culture and attractive things that Russia has to offer, one of the great things about travelling up there are the low costs. It makes Russia an attractive place for Budget travellers. To give you an idea: one way metro tickets are about 30 cents, large beers 1,5 euros and when we bought groceries in the local supermarket we never paid above 5 or 6 euros, for a lot of items.

During the rest of our days in St. Petersburg, the weather has been as good as it gets during winter in Russia. The sun was out most of the time and no more snow. So we spend the majority of our time just strolling around and visiting some of the most beautiful, colorful and unique cathedrals ever built. We also paid another visit to the Hermitage and this time we got in. We got lost at least a dozen times, but that’s fine, it was a lot of fun trying to find our way around and I also got to see some work from Monet. He’s my favorite artist and I love seeing his work all around the world.

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Nikolaus-Marine Church

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Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

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Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

Back at the airport we saw that we would fly an Antonov AN-140 back to Vienna. Antonov is most commonly known for its mega cargo airplane AN-225 and I didn’t really thought it was possible to fly anything else than Boeing or Airbus on major commercial flights these days, so I was beyond excited. The Bus dropped us off next to the runway, we were about 30 people in total and I took some pictures whilst boarding the plane. Immediately I was taken aside and yelled at in russian. It was pretty obvious that I should not have been taking pictures of the plane. I had to delete all of them and after controlling my iPhone I was allowed to enter. I’d still like to know why I can’t take a simple picture of a plane. There were no military buildings or anything similar in the background. The flight was rather uncomfortable and lasted for about 2.5 hours. Later I found out that the only plane that is landing in Vienna beside a Boeing or Airbus is exactly that one Antonov, only operating on LED-VIE. Cool stuff!

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The infamous Antonov AN-140

It was my first trip with my younger brother, which I very much enjoyed and we already have ideas for another trip in the later stages of 2015. As of today I have no exact plans, as I’m about to finish my diploma at university, which gives me a lot of stress, but I’m planning to be back in Northern Africa and travelling to the Caucasian Region before the much needed and missed summer in Vienna arrives.