It was 9am when we arrived at the Estonian border office along the Narva river. We needed more than four hours to cross the bridge spanning the river before to ride for the first time in Russia. As an award, we enjoyed our first soviet lunch with a great view over the Narva castle and for the last time, Estonia plus the European Union in the background.
We rode 157kms to reach Saint Petersburg.
The road was straight and surrounded by several pine trees. While the sat nav was indicating our point of arrival at 30 kilometres further, a sign was showing the entry of the Saint Petersburg city. The road was wider, in only a few kilometres we were from a 2-lane road to a 6-lane road. We made our way through the jam-packed trafic to reach a motorbike shop located in the town-centre, nearby the “Finland train station”. We parked the sidecars next to a kids’ playground and looked for the shop. We ordered tires through Ural Russia and they have been shipped to this address. But at the exact place, there was nothing! When we looked up, we saw the name of the shop indicating to go to the second floor of a building. We arrived in a beautiful place dedicated to BMW motorbikes with an industrial style including metal and brick. We left with 5 brand new Duro tires.
With a lot of energy, we started to visit this famous Russian city early in the morning. Saint Petersburg has been built in 1703 when Pierre de Grand, Tsar of Russia, started its urbanism project with the inspiration of German engineers, Italian architecture, Dutch and French experts. Saint Petersburg is often considered as a window of Europe. On the pavements of the streets, we felt like the Lilliputian of Gulliver. Due to the excessive size of the architecture, the wide avenues and the orthodox churches, the city was inappropriate for our size.
To reach the historic town centre, we walked alongside the Neva river. This one was winding between the oversized buildings of the town centre. On the quays, there were old ships, the old boats of the imperial armada.
We crossed the Champs de Mars, place previously reserved for the military parades. In the middle, there was the monument of the “fighters of the Revolution” (1917-1919) plus the eternal flame commemorating the victims of the “Great Patriotic War” against the Nazi invader. The date of the 9th of May being soon – it’s the commemoration of the victory (celebrated one day after due to the jet lag of the other allies countries) – the preparations of the biggest military parade already started. We discovered two old Ural sidecars a the light machine gun at the front, parked on the esplanade.
A few steps further, we saw for the first time the beautiful cathedral of the “Savior on the Spilled Blood”. This amazing building has been built in the true tradition of the Orthodox cathedrals and was in homage to the Tsar Alexander II, murdered at this place in 1881. Among the other visitors, we spent a long time to observe the details of the facade and the sumptuous colourful domes. Sadly, the top was being refurbished during our visit. Once we watched meticulously the outside, we wend inside. First, I was surprised by the benches which were missing before to be amazed by the colours of the mosaic of the icons covering each corner of the walls from the floor to the ceiling.
At the exit of the cathedral, we attended the parade of the 1st of May on the Nevski avenue, the main avenue of the city. During almost one hour, and in spite of arriving late, we attended the parade of the Poutine politics party came to celebrate the Labour Day, in its on way. The flags with the bear symbol and the colours of Russia were moving at the same pace as the drums and percussions. At the end of the cortege, the communist party was marching during 20 minutes with its red flags. A cortege composed mainly by retired people distributing flyers and newspapers while singing on the music of the Bolshevik revolution. At the end of the cortege, we were surprised to see the fart-left wingers an vegan, just in front of a group from the right politics party. The whole cortege moved without violence, surrounded by militaries.
A few minutes later, the time to turn some pages of a few books at « the house of books », the Nevski Avenue was back to its usual business. We walked along the street and turned to the left after a channel to join the impressive « Palace Place » in front of the « Hermitage Castle ». A place showing well the magnificent side and the greatness of the city. The Alexander column was in the center of the place, in commemoration of the victory of Alexander 1er against Napoleon. We walked to the bottom of Isaac’s Church before to enjoy the green area of the Alexander’s Garden where we ate a sandwich next to an antifascist group.
Once we were refreshed, we took the Dvortsovy Most bridge spanning the Neva river, the Vassilevki island and more precisely, the Stock Market place. This square is situated where the river divides in two arms, offering this afternoon a great panorama over the Saint-Petersburg historical town center, illuminated by the warm rays of the sun going through the Neva river. We kept going and arrived at the Pierre and Paul fortress by the narrow beach along the ramparts. In the gardens, we observed families playing a traditional game with wooden pins shot by throwing a long wooden stick. Our stroll ended at the nice and without pretension Saint Vladimir Cathedral and its sky blue domes. Our colourful sunny day finished by walking through the street towards our flat, under the warm colours of the dusk.
But Saint Petersburg knows only 35 days of sun per year, therefore it was without surprise that we woke-up with the sound of the rain for this second day in the city. A weather calling the visit of the famous Hermitage Museum. A giant museum hosting artistical and mythological treasures. For optimising our visit, we prioritised the collection of impressionism masters. We went rapidly across the rooms and climbed up the stairs of the Winter Palace, before to discover, by asking to a guardian, that the impressionism collections were, at the opposite of the Great Palace, in the Palace of the General Staff. Quickly, we went on our way back in the opposite direction of the other tourists. Once in front of the large collection of Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Renoir, Monet, we were surprised by the lack of people around the artworks, a pleasure for our eyes… we discovered with a lot interest the artworks of an American artist named Rockwell Kent, which revealed a great work of colours and lights.
In the middle of the afternoon, we had to leave Saint Petersburg. We continued our trip in direction of East. With a cold and rainy weather, we arrived at the village of Andreyevshchina.
We spent the night in a family inn next to the road. The village was at the end of a muddy path. We had a few difficulties to understand the owners, but we finished to take place in two rooms and to share a corner of the kitchen with the family for the diner.
It was time to go back to our rooms for a good sleep because the next day will be dedicated to the long straight roads of the Russian taïga.