After navigating through South Africa with very little problem, Jon and I felt confident with our GPS and driving skills upon landing in St. Petersburg. Russians drive on the “normal” side of the road, so we expected a relaxing drive through the city. Not the case. We were relieved to have Vladimir, a travel consultant and adventure guide from WildRussia who met us at the airport, as copilot. As we weaved in and out of traffic and inquired about driving rules, Vladimir explained that it was difficult to give an answer because the accepted driving rules change day to day. Interesting.
I had no idea what to expect for our trip to Russia. Due to the difficulty of obtaining a visa, Russia isn’t typically at the top of the average American’s travel list. A few stereotypes of tanks filling the highways and people standing in line for bread rations filled my head. While we did actually see a few tanks on the drive in, Russia is in fact not a scary place at all. Everyone we’ve met has been incredibly friendly and eager to help us understand the culture, language, and landscape. St. Petersburg is filled with beautiful architecture, canal systems, and tall skinny girls with unnervingly long legs. Between observing the city dwellers bustling around and trying to shop for a pair of shoes, I’ve concluded that Russian women only wear high heels.
If you’re looking to visit Russia for any type of adventuring – trekking, climbing, biking, kayaking – I would highly recommend looking into WildRussia as a guiding service. Despite the fact that Vladimir typically leads clients up mountains, he guided us on a whirlwind tour of the city. In just a few hours of walking along the cobblestone streets, we saw the St. Petersburg canal system, Spas-na-krovi Cathedral, and the Winter Palace of Romanov Emperors, among a variety of other sites. We also ate traditional Russian food at a Dostoevsky style cafeteria, complete with Borscht, a Ukranian beet root soup and staple within Russia. Thanks to Vladimir for an incredible city tour! He even provided us with a beautiful floral umbrella, which Jon thoroughly enjoyed.
Now we’re at Triangular Lake to boulder for the next three weeks. Since we’re so close to the border of Finland, anyone who travels to this region (citizen or foreigner) has to have a special permit. Guards at checkpoints on the way to the lake scanned our documents thoroughly, commenting with a chuckle and cigarette hanging from their lips, “we don’t want another Snowden”. More about life out in the country farmhouse in the coming days!