We arrived into Saint Petersburg after midnight, having crossed the border on the train. Our taxi ride to our hostel was absolutely jaw dropping. We drove past all the main sights and in the dark, all lit up, they are really quite impressive. The size and grandeur of the Hermitage and Nevsky Prospect is not what we expected having come through the Eastern block. This was then surpassed when we went out to see Peterhof and Catherine's Palace.
I was also surprised at how European the architecture is. This city was definitely influenced by the West, with Tsar Peter having spent many years on the continent working incognito as a shipbuilder before becoming emporer.
Our top recommendation besides the well known sights would be to eat at the Trezzini Palace Boutique hotel. We got the place to ourselves and our waiter was incredibly friendly, telling us to expect snow in Krasnoyarsk at this time of year and welcoming us to Russia in style. In addition, the food was delightful, with Lucy being served a whole pumpkin stuffed with wheat germ.
Our communication skills are being tested all the more with the introduction of another alphabet. Some characters are familiar, but pronounced differently, such as н which is pronounced "en" and р which is an "arr" sound. I (Chris) tried to learn Russian before setting out but after my phone broke, I stopped practicing and it's gone out of my head a bit. So far we've been able to get by but I'm hoping to get some more practice in.
One thing which slightly marred our stay here was that the hostel we were staying in was not really geared for tourists. We think the main reason behind this is that the hostel's primary purpose is to support locals in need. There were a number of people with various problems staying there, which may have contributed the general messiness of the place and the lack of tourists there. We made the most of it though by busying ourselves with seeing the sights and when we got back, we were worn out and grateful of a warm bed.