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Monday, July 23, 2012

Russia - St. Petersburg 6.29 - 6.30

View St. Petersburg in a larger map

  • W St. Petersburg
  • Alexandrovsky Sad
  • Gogol restaurant   
  • Frommer walking tour
  • Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood
  • Cathedral of Our lady of Kazan

The trip got off to a rocky start.  H was all stressed out the morning before we left.  On the way to the airport, our limo had a flat tire.  Because of the fatigue and lack of sleep the past 2 days trying to wrap up work, my migraine was at a full blown attack by the time I sat down in my seat.  Before the plane took off, I had already thrown up twice (one of my migraine symptoms).  At least the restroom was behind our seats.  Oh yes, we had the pleasure of sitting on the last row. 

The flight had a one hour and 45 minutes layover in Moscow before our final destination, St. Petersburg.  It was then when we discovered that my luggage was lost.  After we filed the paperwork, we had already missed our connecting flight and had to take the next flight out.  Aeroflot ground crew told us my luggage hopefully would arrive on a later flight, however, we would have to return to the airport to pick it up. 

"WHAT? Are you kidding me?" I was beyond annoyed.  The ground crew could not provide us with any valid explanations, probably due to the limitation of their English or lack of logic? I mean, how does this make ANY sense???

Before we travel, we had heard a few people telling us that the Russian airlines were terrible.  Yes, I was on hold for more than 30 minutes to talk to someone from the airline when I tried to reserve flight seats in advance, and they would not allow seat reservation.  However, the aircraft was new, the service was efficient and attentive, and there were tons of movies to choose from.  I was pleasantly surprised......Until we lost our luggage, which only happened twice ever.   

To make long story longer, once we arrived in St. Petersburg airport, H asked the Lost & Found office if it was possible for them to deliver the luggage to our hotel.  The lost & Found office advised us to get an official stamp from the Aeroflot desk to authorize them delivering the luggage to our hotel.  We spent the next hour trying to get the ground crew to do so.  The supervisor explained that the stamp had to be obtained in the Aeroflot corporate office in the city when it opened on Monday, which meant I would have to waste more time going to their corporate office, and wait for another 2 days without luggage?  She further explained that because the paperwork was filed in Moscow and so it should be stamped from Moscow.  She was sympathetic and apologetic, but there was nothing she could do. 

Seriously, was I in "Lost in Translation 2 - Russian Version" movie sequel????

Somebody explains this to me, "why do these RUSSIANS make things sooooo DARN DIFFICULT!!!!"  Any other airline companies would send the luggage to your door steps without you having to utter a word.  I didn't know if I should cry or scream.

We still made the lady put a stamp on our paperwork and brought it back to the Lost and Found office.  The Lost & Found office accepted the paperwork, verified the hotel address, and told us that the luggage should arrive in a few hours.  A huge sign of relief.   Yes, we lost a couple of hours in St. Petersburg, but now everything was peachy again. 

H got a local sim card with internet access at the airport for around 35o rubles.  We then took the official taxi straight to our hotel. 

In preparing for this trip, we decided to splurge on hotels to rely on the concierge service with the visa documents and other trip planning support.  W St. Petersburg did not disappoint.  Their slogan was "Whatever, Whenever" (should add a disclaimer: with a price), and they provided very attentive services.   The hotel was centrally located, and the facility was new, clean,  swanky, and well-kept.  However, it is worth mentioning that using in-room wi-fi and hotel swimming pool cost extra. 

When we checked in, we explained to the receptionist about our lost luggage.  Turned out, we were not the only one with bad luck that day.   The hotel receptionist told us that luggage delay/loss happens quite frequently. 

After a power nap, a quickly shower and watching H change into clean clothes enviously, we stepped out of the hotel to explore the city.  I was excited walking on the Russian soil for the first time.  We walked through Alxandrovsky Sad, saw the Buddy Bears in the park, and took photos of Palace Square.  Some cars on the road were a little beat up, signs were in a language that I could not understand, but the city was not as foreign as I imagined it would be.   It felt like a beautiful eastern European city. 

We took hotel concierge's suggestion and had our first meal in St. Petersburg at the near by Gogol restaurant.  When we walked in around 4: 30 PM, the restaurant was mostly empty. The host asked if we had a reservation and was hesitate to give us a table.  Before we sat down, the waiter told us  that the table was reserved for 8 PM, which was 3.5 hours away.   We assured him that we would be done with our meal before then.  Obviously, we were not  running on New York minutes anymore.

The restaurant felt like it stood the time from the 19th century Russia.  It was both amazing and shocking to learn that we would use the bell placed on the table to call for the waiter's attention.  As for the food, I really am not the best judge when it comes to Russian cuisine.  A handful of times when I went to the Russian restaurants in New York, I went for the ambiance and decor than the food.  The food was always enjoyable, but it just did not excites me much. 

One thing I do like about Russian cuisine is that there are huge verities of appetizers.  It was a lot of fun for H and I sampling many appetizers through out this trip.  For our first meal, we ordered: 

1. Siberia white fish with a short of horseradish vodka 
   (Love the flavored vodka!  Strong but a perfect compliment to the salted fish)
2. Pelmeni with grounded beef & pork. (safe dish, can't go wrong with that)
3. Smoked beef & grilled cheese with ruccola & berry salad. (Russia salad dishes are usually pretty heavy.)

After the meal,  we followed Frommer's walking tour and walked through Palace Square to the main commercial street, Nevsky Prospekt, with many restaurants and shops.  We went inside the Kazan Cathedral when the mass was in session.   Although neither H and I are religious, the choir was so peaceful and divine that we lingered for a long time listening to the choir. 

After a detour to a book store for some postcards, coffees to keep us energized, ATM for some cash, we eventually came to Church of the savior on the spilled blood.  There are so many intricate details that you do not know where to look first.  It was almost impossible to take everything in.  The interior of the church went through more than 20 years of restoration and is equally mesmerizing as the exterior.  

It was past 8pm when we came out from the church.  The sun was still out like it was only 2 o'clock in the afternoon even thought it was a cloudy day.  We strolled back to the hotel, and learned that my luggage was still M.I.A.  Sigh.......


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