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Tuesday 17th December 2002

We didn't wake up until 9:20am this morning. I had feared waking up like the proverbial grizzly bear with a sore head, but I felt fine and dandy! The weather report just in was showing a temperature of -12C for today. Fantastic! The extra frost on our window confirmed that it was even colder today.

We went down for breakfast at 10am and filled our boots. We took a wonderfully leisurely approach to today's breakfast and ploughed our way through plenty of what was on offer.

Check out was at 12pm today, so after breakfast we returned to our room to pack. We only just manage to make it on time, with only 10 minutes to spare. We called concierge for someone to collect our luggage, and we checked out bang on midday.

Our bill came to $317, which included $160 for the expensive excursion to Pushkin. It was the miniature vodka at $6 that was extortionate! We left our luggage in a secure area behind reception, and headed out for our final day in St. Petersburg.

There was no plan for today, just a wander down Nevsky Prospekt, and then spend the evening at Café Idiot waiting for our 11pm pick up. But first we decided to go inside St. Isaac's Cathedral.

We walked to the cathedral but we couldn't quite work out where the entrance was. It was all covered with scaffolding and with no English signs we were at a loss. We walked all the way round, returning to the side that faces the square, without finding a door to let us in.

It was definitely colder today, and the wind chill factor was exceedingly cold on our faces. We sought sanctuary in the warmth of the cathedral but we couldn't find the blessed entrance!

We eventually decided to try some steps to what could possibly be towards an entrance, and Hallelujah we were right! Even more of a miracle was how we got in as students! They gave us a 50% reduction in the price so that was a bonus!

The interior was vast and absolutely stunning.

Glorious malachite columns, beautiful painted walls and ceiling, especially the central dome which had a heavenly scene portrayed.

We ambled around, and then sat on a bench, absorbing the whole beauty of this cathedral. Once again, Julie sensed that I was itching to do something.

She knew that I was desperate to go up to the colonnade to see the views of the city from the dome.

She said that I could go if I wanted but warned that with aching limbs from yesterday and a long day on our feet ahead of us, it may not be wise to climb up to the dome.

Of course, not being one for acting on the advice of wisdom I followed my impulsion and headed for the colonnade.

I wasn't too sure whether the steps were on the inside or the outside so I only took my hat and scarf with me, leaving my coat on the bench with Julie.

I was told by the lady at the ticket desk that it was 270 steps, and was mostly outside!

The climb up wasn't too strenuous, and the first part was inside, up a tight spiral stone staircase.

Even so, I was still working up a sweat though in my thermal underwear.

Then at the top of this tower a small gantry was in place to take you from there to the colonnade at the base of the dome.

The wind up here was extremely cold, especially as I had no coat! It was all worth it however as the views across St. Petersburg were wonderful. I took several photos as quick as I could before I died from Hypothermia.

I then came back down another 270 steps, but this time down the opposite side.

This dumped me out onto the street by the backdoor, so I had to run all the way around the building to get back inside to where Julie was waiting for me.

My entire body throbbed as it regained its normal temperature.

A word to the wise, next time take a bloody coat!

We left St. Isaac's Cathedral soon after I'd regained my composure and headed off to Nevsky Prospekt.


As we joined it at the Moika canal, we turned left and crossed the road to find a sign on the wall. Julie had read about it in our guide book last night. It was a sign placed on the wall during the second world war, and warned citizens that they were more likely to be bombed walking on that side of the street!

We stopped for a coffee, but not in the Literary Café. This famous cafe was often frequented by Pushkin and other intellectual types, and is renowned for its historical significance. However, due to all the hype that surrounds it, the coffee is overpriced.

Instead we chose a modern looking café, on the other side of the street, which served a decent Americano and at 50 roubles for 2 cups was very reasonable.

We sat in a window seat and I brought out my journal to write down this morning's happenings. Other customers were doing similar literary work at their tables, but Julie joked that it was just my vain attempt at looking intellectual. I suppose she knows me inside out!

After coffee we continued to walk up Nevsky to the Gostiny Dvor department store. We went inside and walked around for a little longer than yesterday, discovering another side to the store which felt more like a market than a department. We even bought a very ornate and small ten piece Russian doll. We also saw, but didn't buy, a life-sized Kalashnikov-shaped vodka bottle that came in a khaki cargo box! What a wonderful marketing idea! We left the store before Julie was tempted to buy some very pretty amber jewellery. They weren't that cheap!

Continuing along the street we reached the Fontanka canal, where we decided to cross the road and start on our return journey back down the street. We were also getting very hungry by now, around 3:30pm, and as if it were a mirage oasis, we immediately noticed a sign for The Red Devil Café.

It was a short distance down from Nevsky, canal side of the Fontanka. Being the nickname of Manchester United, (the red devils), it was an omen we couldn't ignore.

We entered to see canteen style stainless steel trays filled with various foods on display. They didn't look at all appetising but we were too ravenous to care. We tried to deduce what the different kinds of meat were, and Julie decided to try the skewered chicken, with fried potato.

I just had a plate of the fried potato. They also spooned onto the plate garlic and dill sour cream dip. (We've noticed that dill is a very popular herb in Russia.) We also asked for tea, I even tried out my Russian and asked for "Chai". I impressed myself with my language skills, but the staff serving us made no acknowledgment in response. Not even a smile to answer mine. The bill only came to 150 roubles, so I was concerned that they hadn't taken the tea order.

We sat down to eat, and was so surprised to find that the food was actually very tasty! We were still thirsty however, so I got up and went to the counter where I pointed and grunted at the coca cola light. I repeat my pointing at the coffee machine, and successfully returned to my table with our drinks. Two minutes later, from the back room, our "Chai" arrived! Isn't a lack of understanding of the language such a handicap!

Feeling recharged, we strolled back down the street looking in all the shop windows. Passing one in particular, proudly displaying a stuffed brown bear, a stuffed lynx, a stuffed golden eagle and an innumerable amount of other stuffed furry and feathered friends. Is there not such a thing as a protected species in Russia?

I wanted to find the Russian Museum, despite it being closed on Tuesdays, just to see the building, and also a statue of Pushkin that stood in the park in front. So we turned right down a side street. We couldn't see the park, but did stumble across a Pancake Booth. How delicious! We queued up, studying the menu in Cyrillic, and decided on ordering a Sugar & Lemon pancake. But I ended up walking away with a sugar and lemon cup of tea! As if I hadn't enough fluid inside me already! Undaunted, we rejoined the back of the queue and tried again, this time scouring the menu for the word that looked as if it meant pancake. I found it, I hoped, and asked for a "Teremok". It sounded very similar to the Welsh word "crempog", and yes, this time we got it right!

The kids serving inside the booth found it hilarious as they must have realised that earlier we walked away with a cup of tea when we really wanted a pancake. I didn't care if I was being ridiculed in Russian, the pancake was just perfect, and worth it! It was also good to see someone laugh and smile for a change.

Once we'd finished our pancake, we walked through a small shopping mall to take us back onto Nevsky Prospekt. In here we passed a shop that had a window display that for a moment had me speechless. On show was a light brown fur hand bag, and accessories to match. Below the mannequin was a large cat of the exact same fur. I turned and mentioned to Julie how terrible and tasteless it was that they had a stuffed cat in the window just to remind you that the bag you're buying was probably made from her kittens! The animal rights campaigner inside of me was getting onto its soap box, when Julie told me that the cat wasn't stuffed, but was real. I had to go right up to the glass to notice that its ear was twitching. I really must start wearing my spectacles more often! Just call me Mr. Magoo!

We came out onto Nevsky right next to a shop called Colin's! I never knew that I had a trendy clothes shop named after me! We went in and decided that we had to buy something.

It was very similar to a Miss Selfridges or Miss Sixty back in the UK, so we found a very nice jumper that we thought Hannah would love. The bonus was that I get to keep the carrier bag with 'Colin's' printed on it!

Once again we turned off Nevsky in search of the Russian Museum.

This time walking down pass the Grand Europe hotel, widely accepted as the best hotel in St. Petersburg. However we both agreed that we preferred the location of the Astoria. Along this tree lined street, as we were avoiding the low branches, I looked back at Julie to notice something behind her.

I told her nothing as not to alarm her, but she saw that I kept on glancing at her, or behind her. She asked me what was wrong, so I then gently put my arm around her, and calmly told her that there was a huge dog behind her, and it had been sniffing her for the past few minutes.

We came to an immediate stop, and so did the dog. Fortunately it sniffed one last time, and then decided to walk on. As it walked past us our mouths dropped when we saw that it looked very much like wolf! It had those hunched arched shoulders, and shifty movement. If it wasn't a wolf then it was certainly a dog crossed with one!

At the end of this side street we found the Russian Museum, but as we approached the park we saw the wolf dog, prowling, sniffing the bins.

We were quite hesitant in following it into the park, so we were very relieved when it skulked away in the opposite direction.

Rabies would not be my chosen holiday illness. Give me diarrhoea any day!

I'm glad we made the effort to find this park as it looked absolutely stunning in the snow, and all the fairy light on the trees. I attempted to capture the park on film. I knew that night time photography is tricky, and one of the main keys is to keep camera shake to a minimum. Ideally you would whip out your tripod, and take the perfect photo, but I couldn't be bothered to carry all that equipment. Luckily Julie volunteered to be my tripod! She stood in front of me, and being 5ft 2in, conveniently short enough for me to place the camera on her head, steady myself, and then click!

From the park we could see that the Church on the Spilled Blood wasn't too far, so we decided to head in its direction. As we walked around the back of the Church this stranger was following us from a distance with a sketch pad in hand, busily scribbling away. Whenever we looked at him he coyly smiled at us, as if to say "you won't believe how good this sketch of you is, and it can be yours for only a few dollars". We did like the locals and didn't smile back. We quickened our pace to try and shake him off, trying our best to ignore him. He was still lurking, despite sternly turning towards him and saying "Niet, Niet!" We eventually lost him in the market place after some of the traders must have told him to leave us alone as he was scaring their customers away!

As we emerged out of the market, and headed back up Moika canal, we were stopped by another hawk trying to sell some watercolours. He was quite friendly however, and spoke good English. He said that he had seen us here yesterday. I had no recollection of him, but Julie remembered him. He was quite cheerful and so we decided to buy a $3 painting of St. Isaac's cathedral. Even after the sale he was still chatting away, asking about from where we were, and how did we like St. Petersburg. He also wanted to know the Welsh word for Thank You, which is Diolch, to which he replied that it sounded very similar to the Estonian word. We parted with the both of us saying thank you in each others language. "Diolch", "Spaseeba".

From here we returned to the same coffee shop we stopped at earlier in the day. I was incredibly desperate for the toilet, what with all the fluids I had drunk all afternoon. I stood by the urinals and pissed like a horse! I just kept on going and going. It was such a soothing relief!

We sat down for and Americano and a Lemon Tea. Once again I whipped my journal out which annoyed Julie a little. Perhaps it would have been better left in my rucksack and a little conversation wouldn't have gone amiss! She was fine though, and after leaving the café we chatted our way back to the Astoria hotel.

When we arrived we saw many black limousines with international flags, such as Canada, China, Thailand, Sweden to name but a few. There were also several security guards in tuxedos and earpieces hovering in the lobby, and a sign pointing to the conference lounge reading The General Consulate of Japan. We went to the bar for the end of happy hour. We joked that perhaps we should try and gatecrash the party by saying that we were diplomats from the Welsh Embassy. Obviously we didn't.

When it came to paying our bill we discovered that is wasn't such a happy hour because we hadn't read the small print of what the rules of play were. The barman explained that a purchase of one full price drink entitles you to another free drink of the same drink, per individual. We had a larger each, and then had a wine and a shot of vodka respectively. We hadn't played by the rules and ended up paying for the four drinks. We lost to a technicality!

We had decided that we would spend the evening at Café Idiot as our pick up was not until 11pm. At 8pm we walked over to the café. It was getting colder outside but "Idiot" was warm and inviting. We sat at the same table as yesterday, and the same waitress served us. We ordered Siberian Mushrooms each and fried onion rings. Then for the main course a vegetable fondue to share.

The starters were as tasty as they were yesterday, and the portion of onion rings was huge. We also had our complimentary vodka. Next they brought us the fondue. It was a large plate of raw vegetables, (plus prawns and mussels! A Veggie nightmare! Aaargh! ) It had a bowlful of a sauce in the centre. We dipped the vegetables into the sauce to find that it was cold, and quite tasteless. We were confused, but not having eaten a fondue before we weren't too sure whether this is how it was meant to be eaten in Russia?! Julie couldn't eat it, but I persevered, dipping raw aubergine into this cold bland sauce. Going all British and refusing to complain for fear of showing our ignorance!

Just when I was on the verge of giving up, the waitress came to the table carrying a cast iron pot with a flame beneath it. She must have been watching us with some amusement, but asked us in a very sincere way, "Do you know what you are doing?" It was so obvious that we didn't have a clue!

The bland tasting sauce in the middle was cold batter! We were supposed to dip the raw veg into the batter, and then cook it in the hot oil of the cast iron fondue pot! How embarrassing! We laughed so much we almost wet ourselves! It was far nicer eating it how we were supposed to! What idiots of ourselves we had just made! Perhaps we should suggest that they rename the place Café Colin & Julie!

After we finished I picked up a chess board and gave Julie her first lessons on how to move the chess pieces. The first game I won, but I neglected to mention that when a pawn reaches the end of the board it becomes a Queen. As a result I got a check mate. I also won the second game but Julie made a better fist of it. The café Idiot experience was a very relaxed and pleasurable experience, and it was a shame that we were leaving St. Petersburg tonight. It would have been good to have returned here a few more times before going home.

At 10:20pm we left to return to the hotel. The international dignitaries had left. By the time we had collected our luggage and security deposit box contents it was 11pm, and our pick up arrived right on time. He took us to the railway station, at the end of Nevsky Prospekt.

It was snowing quite heavily now, and really quite cold. We had difficulty parking outside the station, so we parked somewhere in the middle of the road?

We humped our luggage from the car, into the station, and onto the platform.

Thankfully our driver accompanied us to the platform, and found our carriage for us.

He even helped us keep our luggage in our little cell for the night.

It wasn't easy as our suitcases wouldn't fit under the seats, so we had to lift them above the door.

It was all quite a fluster, and with all the excitement I was getting quite hot. I was still wearing my hat, coat, scarf and gloves, and all my thermal underwear, and on top of it all the heating was blasting out some heat! It was like an oven inside, and I was certainly roasting quite nicely! I frantically stripped off down to my underpants, but it was too late, I was seriously over heating. I was literally climbing the walls, trying to cool down on the relatively colder Formica walls. Julie saw that the locals who were used to this were all standing in the passageway where the windows could be opened, and they had the doors to their room wide open.

I was in such a state. Julie likened me to a caged animal, pacing up and down. The window inside the compartment didn't open, but I found it to be by far the coldest surface, and the minute we'd left the platform I opened the curtains and stuck myself, limpet fashion, to the window pane. It brought an almost instant relief; but I just hope that no one saw me! My parents would be terribly embarrassed of me if the BBC news were to report "Man from Anglesey arrested for indecent exposure"!

Julie fell asleep almost immediately, whereas I still suffered from hot flushes, where my only relief was to rub my bare flesh against the window. My stomach was churning from all that cold batter, and the noise and motion of the train was making it all worse. I drank my way through three bottles of mineral water, and tossed and turned all night.

At one point I just kept on thinking, "I'm sitting on a train that is hurtling down a track. I am currently moving at the same speed as the seat, but what if the train hit an immoveable object? It would stop immediately, but I would not. I would continue to hurtle through the air, crushing Julie with the same pressure per square inch as a Woolly Mammoth"

I had a very restless night!

Wednesday 18th>>

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