December 29, 2008 GMT
Into Russia

September 1st
We awake and check our documents, we are horrified to find they are all damp, including the St Petersburg maps which are illegible. Luckily the hotel has a heated floor in the bathroom where we spread them out to dry whilst we eat breakfast. The hotel receptionist explains we need to book a slot to cross the border at a special office. We cannot find the office so again we go to the tourist information office.
The helpful ladies explain that we are not counted as pedestrians or traffic (both of which need to book in) so we should just go directly to the border, we ride around the long queue of cars and straight to the front. The border crossing is tedious, with good opportunities for people watching and goes without hitch, we buy motorcycle insurance here and ride into Russia.
The road is very badly potholed and we are sure that it will improve when we get away from the border crossing. Nick is leading as we pass through a road block. This resembles a workmans hut and sign and the STOP sign is easy to miss, but the young policeman nips out waving his black and white baton, he catches me and asks for my papers. As we have only just entered the country Nick has the lot even all of our money. The look on the policeman's face as I point to a rapidly disappearing BMW is a picture, I am releived when Nick turns back!
The Policeman takes us into his hut and produces a book saying we must pay a fine for our misdemeanor, which comes to a nice round figure of 1,000 Roubles (and no receipt).
We ride steadily from then on, 45 MPH max, the road does not improve and the holes are surrounded by ridges and bumps, the hard shoulder is the smoothest area but is very narrow. There are more police cars everywhere at a ratio of 1 per 10 miles, some of which eye us as we pass.
The Hotel in St Petersburg is pre-paid/booked and we have been communicating with the landlord via text message. We ride into the city, the holes are now joined by raised tramilines and some challenging driving. We know the hotel is next to a main canal, but after many hours searching and some really helpful locals it remains elusive. My mobile coverage is nil, the maps are illegible, it turns dark and starts to rain so we cut our losses and find another hotel feeling deeply deeply frustrated.

We check on the hotels' internet the exact location of our original hotel and set out the next morning to find it. In Russia hotels can be anywhere, after parking the bikes and walking, examining any doors or openings Nick finds the hotel. We find our rooms are in a small courtyard on the second floor with no signs, we bring the bikes in the courtyard and take off to see St Petersburg on foot. The Landlord takes our documents and registers us, this is a legal requirement in Russia and could lead to a steep fine if not done.
We earmark the Hermitage for a visit the next day and enjoy the many sights of St Petersburg, there is just so much to see. An Australian family is staying at the hotel and we discuss where to visit with them, they are backpacking around Europe with two young daughters and have some tales to tell of Poland and other countries they have visited.
The Hermitage is an amazing museum with whole rooms dedicated to single artists, but really needs at least two days to do it justice. There is a smaller museum nearby explaining the Seige of Leningrad which gives an interesting background to St Petersburg.
Nick also wants to ride on the underground, which was an experience. At the bottom of the stairway there is a wide corridor with metal doors at regular intervals in the walls, people are standing at the doorways and suddenly we hear a train stopping. The doors open revealing the interior of the train, which the passengers step directly into, there are no platfroms and it is a bit surreal.
We spend the next few days exploring St Petersburg, and it would be easy to spend a lot longer looking at the attractions on outskirts of the city, but Russia becons!!

Posted by Gill Roger at December 29, 2008 12:36 PM GMT
 
 

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