I visited St Petersburg first in 1999 – guest at the Ministry of Atomic Energy (no, I wasn’t a spy!). 'Pionerskaya’ was a bit out of town and I was a virgin to the alphabet of Cyril and Methodius.
Deciding to go downtown, I entered the deepest metro in the world. Was told Nevsky Prospect was 4 stops away. So it was.
Saw the stunning Church of Spilled Blood, bought caviar and black pearls.
Home... but what might it look like, in Cyrillic? Chose the wrong direction! Instinct kicked in after one stop. Five stops back, upupup...? Yes!!! .... whadarelief!
I shared a compartment on the ‘Repin’ train from Helsinki with an elderly couple. They were worried as they had no Roubles.
The first Russian city reached is Vyborg, where there’s a 20 minute wait. Feeling brave, I told the man.
“Come with me and we’ll change our money”.
Nervously leaving the train, he followed me down to the station hall where we furtively exchanged Euros with a guy lurking there. The old fella wanted to rush back, but I wanted beer! I bought a six pack of Nevskoye (8%), liked the name, drank alone, arrived St Petersburg absolutely legless!
We’d visited the fabulous fountains of Peterhof, the Czar’s Summer Palace. We returned to the city, having not eaten all day.
Searching for somewhere decent to eat, we stepped off St Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospect. Spying a fabulous canalside restaurant, we sat outside on the sunny side of the Moika. Eating stroganoff opposite the Stroganoff Palace, sipping our Russian champagne. Heaven.
Then two flashy cars raced up, stopped and besuited men leapt out, crowding round an older man and glamorous young woman. A gangster and his moll!
We paid up and left swiftly. (Wife ducking to prevent being caught in crossfire!)