In the middle of August my boyfriend and I went for a day trip to St. Petersburg with St. Peter Line ferry/cruise from Helsinki. We took the boat instead of the train/bus because we only had a weekend to go and didn’t want to wait for the Russian visa. The visa for the trip was included in the ticket and that made it very easy.
Coming from a country that is not surrounded by water (or has any access to the sea at all!) I am not used to ferries or cruises. So even the trip on the ship was a new experience for me. We took the Class B room (no windows!) for two people for about 200 Euros. As I said I’m not accustomed to ferries and I’ve also never been to a cabin in a ferry. All in all, I think it was okay. It felt a bit weird not to have a window, but the ones with windows were much more expensive. What I found strange was that the radio just randomly went on in the room (luckily not during the night!). The facilities on the boat weren’t really mine – loud bars, shops with neither books nor magazines and a casino. In almost every area (even the shops) there was loud disco music.
We arrived at 8 am in St. Petersburg. After arrival, we had to wait about one hour at the border control at the harbour in a (frustratingly slow!) queue. At some times it felt like it didn’t move at all for ten minutes! After the border control, we got to the centre pretty quickly by taking the shuttle bus offered by St. Peter Line. We got there at about 10 am. The shuttle bus stops in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and is pretty convenient. The cathedral was being renovated at the top. You could also go up.
We hadn’t gotten coffee on the ship because we were keen on getting it in St. Petersburg. In the end, it took a while to find an ATM to get cash and then finally buy coffee with Ruble. The trip was pretty spontaneous, so we hadn’t gotten foreign money beforehand. Quickly we found some coffee stands on the streets around St. Isaac’s Cathedral and grabbed some takeaway coffee.
We had decided beforehand to visit the Hermitage Museum instead of the cathedrals. We had to choose because we figured we only had about 5 hours in the city due to the ship’s departure time and bad experience at the border control. There is a lot to see in St. Petersburg, we had to make a choice. We went through a nice park (Aleksandrovsky’ sad) to get to the museum area.
At the time we went to the Hermitage the Harley Days Festival took place at the impressive Palace Square, so it was a bit hard to get around the area with all the motorbikes and people (and selfie sticks!). I might be exaggerating with the selfie sticks a bit because I don’t like them. 😉
There also were many tourists and souvenir sellers. My boyfriend was hoping to find cheap sunglasses from one of the many souvenir stands, but they weren’t selling any. You could find lots of Putin merchandise and Matryoshka dolls, though. I wondered who would buy the Putin mugs and shirts. The one shirt with Putin riding a bear was mysteriously missing from the store on the ship when we were walking past the second time. (I’ve included a photo of a similar one)
In front of the Hermitage entrance, there was a queue again, but it was worth to wait since we got free tickets this way (with showing our international student IDs). In the Hermitage museum, there were many people, often gathering in front of the paintings or sculptures to take photos of (or selfies with) them. It also depended on your luck whether you wanted to go in at the same time with a large group, then you had to queue at the entrance. We got lucky, but we saw queues at the cloakroom and entrances. Because we didn’t have a lot of time we only went to the Winter Palace and connected buildings.
After the museum, we walked alongside the Neva River, got more coffee (I know, big surprise!) and took pictures of the Hermitage and the area.
With spending a lot of time in the museum and our limited time we couldn’t see much more of the city and tried to find a restaurant. We had gotten quite hungry and even if the hotdog stands looked tempting, we wanted to find proper food. Close to a Cat Café with cute cats in the window, we found a nice restaurant on the way back to the bus stop. It was called ‘Decabrist’ and we asked a couple that had just left the place if it was any good, the guy just stuck his thumb up, so we went in. It was very cosy, the food was exceptionally good, but the portions small. I had Spaghetti Carbonara, my boyfriend the Beef Stroganoff. The plates were cheap (I paid 350 Ruble, boyfriend paid 490). They also offered good beer.
On the ship, we booked the buffet for the evening for 29 Euros and it was decent, nothing too special. You had to eat in shifts for 1.5 hours each, which limited our joy with the buffet.
All in all, I have to say that it was a nice trip but there was too little time to see it all. We expected that and weren’t disappointed. If you want to see more of the city, I’d suggest acquiring the ‘real’ visa and taking some other method of transport than the cruise by St Peter Line. You shouldn’t expect to get the full 10 hours in St. Petersburg. Maybe the lines could have been avoided if we had gotten earlier to the harbour and earlier up in the morning. But well, getting up at 7 am on a Saturday didn’t sound too nice to us. 😉