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Starting Badly in Saint Petersburg

Posted by on July 16, 2011

Setting up in St Petersburg

I set up in a coffee shop in the station and tried to work out how to get into town. I then found that there was not one, but five major stations that we could have come in to. David Mackenzie and Google Latitude to the rescue, and I worked out that we’d arrived at Ladozhsky station, conveniently with its own Metro station. I figured out the route I needed to a hostel that looked good, and headed out.

Getting off the 27 hour train from Murmansk

Getting off the 27 hour train from Murmansk


I’d forgotten how glorious the Russian metro stations are, and how deep they go. I suspect that in St Petersburg they’re even deeper down than Moscow, but I’ll come back to that. With very little advertising, clean tunnels, cell reception and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, I was totally lost. Mainly because again, I was reading Cyrillic. Anyway, I’d done a bit more study on the train and figured it out – St Petersburg has quite a simple Metro network, and soon enough I was exiting at Gostiny Dvor metro station, onto Nevsky Prospekt (Avenue).

The instructions I had, however, had me taking a different exit and if not paying attention I’d have walked several blocks in the wrong direction, a problem in this heat – as it was again fantastic weather in town. I found another coffee shop and stood outside borrowing their wifi on my phone, got a map and followed that instead, soon enough coming to Apple Hostel.

There was a problem however. I’m not a fan of booking big blocks of accomodation just in case it’s rough or my plans change – normally I’ll book one night and then add on. This time however not having had internet in Murmansk, I had not booked, and they had no space, as the long weekend with Russia Day was coming up. However, they suggested a friendly nearby one, and since this hostel looked so good, I figured why not. This was the only gripe I have with Apple Hostel, as they sent me to Atmo, about 10 minutes away, and booked me in for the 4 nights I estimated I’d need. Sounds good, but Atmo is not a western tourist hostel.

At first there wasn’t much wrong with Atmo – it’s clean enough, mattreses were ok, and there was a power point by my bed. I quickly worked out, however, that either due to blind luck or whatever, none of the others were foreigners, some were long term stayers – and nobody spoke English, aside from the original girl who checked me in – none of the other staff (that I met) even spoke English. This would be ok normally, but I had a lot of things I’d need help with in this town, and also after the last few days being alone on the train, and in hotels, I’d been getting fairly lonely without any conversation, apart from ones which generally ended with me feeling stupid or frustrated for not knowing much Russian!

I went on a walk around that afternoon, taking in the main street – Nevsky Prospekt, and the sights, before settling in for some sleep. Mysteriously my netbook couldn’t connect to the hostel’s internet, another big problem for me.

The Mystery of the Lost Consulate

Friday I woke, and knew I needed to get to the Kazakhstan consulate ASAP to start my visa process, as I wasn’t sure how long it would take. I had four websites with an address for it, and as a bonus on the city maps on various street corners they had ‘Kazakhstan’ at that location, so it certainly looked right. It was a few kilometres away, so I started walking.

Half way there it was already very, very hot, and walking fast wasn’t the best idea. I grabbed a drink and continued, aiming for shade along the way, spotting the Hermitage enroute, and then St Isaac’s Cathedral. I didn’t know what this was, having never heard anything about it beforehand, but it’s huge. I’ll return to that. I finally found the river, and then the adjoining street. Two blocks later and I’d found the address, and on the door ….

“TO LET”

(but in Cyrillic)

Oh come on. The Kazakhstan embassy in Riga had done this to us as well, relocating and hiding itself, on the one day we’d attempted to find it. Frustrated I searched the street, but that was definitely it. I headed off and had some tourist food and checked the wifi. I’d not copied it down wrong, that was definitely the address.

Found you, Kazakh consulate!

Found you, Kazakh consulate!


Back to the hostel in the afternoon, I started searching, Google, tourist blogs, Twitter, websites, before finally around 8pm I came across a question on the Lonely Planet forums, a couple of years prior. An Australian explained how he’d been to the new location and gotten his visa. Even better, he’d included an address.

Of course, it was a similar distance away, in the other direction – about a 40 min walk. I headed out, determined to find this today. After some wrong turns and some dead-end streets, finally I saw the Kazakhstan flag. Of course, it was closed at 9pm at night, however, and due to Russia Day on Sunday, it wouldn’t be opening on the Monday as it was also a public holiday. Joy. Still, I’d found it. I returned and headed to sleep.

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