St. Petersburg, Russia
June 20, 2004 - June 25, 2004

One of the BEST experiences I've had so far! This is a beautiful city with so much to do. I spent 10 days here, and still didn't have nearly enough time to see it all. Unfortunately, I did get my camera stolen, so there's less pictures than I would have liked. These are all from disposable cameras.

I had arranged to stay with a local, Elena, through Hospitality Club before I arrived.  So when I arrived I met her in the center of town as planned.  She had brought some friends and they all wanted to go see Paul McCartney who was playing a concert at the Winter Palace.  Tickets were sold out, but the Winter Palace is a public place, so the crowds had amassed for several blocks in every direction to listen to the show.  Lucky for me, these locals knew a great roof from which to watch such concerts at the summer palace.  So we all headed to some apartment complexes and turned down into one of their alleys.  In a back parking area there were several other locals milling about.  Apparently this great vantage point was no secret to local kids.  The catch was that the door that they usually used was locked.  Apparently the residents had anticipated a rush to see McCartney from their roof, and locked the back entrance.  Well, after some attempts at other staircases, Elena's friend Galina decided she wasn't going to miss this over some locked door, so she wrangled herself up a storm drain, across a ledge and in through a window.  Moments later the door popped open and we all scurried in.  It was a winding 7 or 8 stories up to the roof entrance, but by the time I got there Galina had already realized it had been padlocked.  Damn!  So back down the staircase we all went.  There were 8 of us at that point, including a French girl Galina was hosting through Hospitality Club who had also just arrived in town.

Well I could see this coming a mile away,  but let it happen anyway.  No sooner had the first 3 ran left the building did a whole slew of Russian police rush to the door and stopped the rest of us.  Shit!  Three had gotten away, and Elena could have too, but I was right behind her, and she knew I was in deep shit.  I hadn't registered my visa with the police yet,  so technically, I wasn't allowed in St. Petersburg.  The rest of the group came out to see what kind of a mess we were in, and all of us were asked to line up against the wall.

The French girl and I were looking at each other knowing that we were the only ones really at risk here.  It's a known routine for these corrupt Russian police to demand bribes from foreigners for just walking through the Red Square.  What could they do to me when they had a legitimate reason?! Because breaking and entering is a pretty legitimate crime where I'm from!  I whispered to Elena "so what usually happens now" so as not to be heard speaking English.  I did not want to give it away that I was walking-talking-money.

So that's when things got weird.  There were about 5 police, and 5 of us.  Should be no problem to commence with some sort of arrest procedure, right.  But no, these police stood around, and talked about seemingly random things.  One lit up a cigarette.  Galina was telling them that we were just students, and weren't doing anything wrong.  She spoke for all of us, which I would have guessed would arouse suspicion among the police, but the rest of us all just stood there looking at our shoes... and so did the police.

All of a sudden, one officer gave an invincibly tiny nod, which Galina and the rest immediately saw.  Elena grabbed my arm, and we all just walked out of the alley.

That was it.  None of the Gestapo tactics I had heard about.  Not even normal police tactics as far as I could see!  I asked what the hell just happened, and Galina explained that in Russia, they would have had to actually caught us inside that building to do anything.  And since Galina convinced them we were probably al student, there wasn't even any thought of any of us actually being bribe-producing foreigners, so they couldn't do anything.  They kept us there to keep up the appearance of power.

Wow, so that was my first 2 hours in Russia!  The rest of the week was a breeze in comparison!

I spent a week with Elena, who was an amazing host!  Not only did she put me up, and introduce me to real Russian food and culture, but she would take me around town whenever she wasn't working to show me the sites.  She worked enough for me to explore on my own, but there was always someone to have meals with, and good conversation.

We had plenty of adventure in the short time we spent together.  One weekend we went up to see Galina who lives an hour outside St Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland.  Galina and her French guest had cooked up an impressive dinner, and we all enjoyed hours of eating, talking and even singing.  Another Russian guy, Hammer, had been hitchhiking across Russia and he was there for dinner.  He happened to love singing, and playing his guitar and harmonicas.  So after dinner, and many toasts to travel, we went for an all-night stroll to the beach where Hammer played original songs 'till sunrise.  A very Russian evening indeed!

All my pictures from that night up at the Gulf of Finland were stolen along with my camera, so the only 
picture I have of everyone is this. We were at Zoom, our favorite cheap, but cool Russian eatery.
(Elena, Elena's roommate, crazy Galina, and Hammer)

On my own time I explored some of the museums and sites in and around town.  
This was the Summer Palace which was a 30 minute hydrofoil ride away.

It has an absurd amount of gold statues and water fountains

The Winter Palace, also known as the Hermitage, is the most beautiful palace I've ever seen.  
The Louvre is a one-act circus compared to this museum!  I only wish the interior pictures came out better.

The famous Russian onion roofs

Canals are everywhere.  There are supposedly more bridges than in Venice.

This rabbit statue seems like a good place to make wishes, and these young
 lads thinks it seems like and even better idea to recycle your coins!

Peter the Great was supposed to have had a small head... as seen in his statue

A river view of the Winter Palace

This is where McCartney played

Inside the Winter Palace

If only this picture came out better.  This is the most beautiful room I've ever seen in my life.

The Pushkin Theater
I saw a very good Ballet here for $5, but those pictures didn't come out either

Damn disposable cameras!  This is the inside of the very cool, VERY deep subway system

Elena's neighborhood where I stayed

Elena's small, but functional kitchen

Living/Bed Room

A group of us out at 2AM waiting for the drawbridges to rise