Russia ’16 – St. Petersburg Day 1

Flying Aeroflot from Berlin, we chose to spend one night in the capital before embarking on our Russia trip. Many attractions (and restaurants) close on Mondays and we’ve been to Berlin before many times, so we simply walked from our hotel near the Kurfürstendamm shopping street to Kreuzberg, where we visited the Veganz store (no surprises there, the product range is quite similar to Leipzig’s) and checked out a vegan cafe, Freckles. We had the Caramel Hot Chocolate – which unfortunately isn’t served in a bathtub, it was addictively good – and a cup of dirty chai. Walking back home, we stopped for dinner at Ixthys (“fish”, you’ll soon discover why). The Korean restaurant is a bit of a refreshing oddity – tucked away in Schöneberg, the (small) menu and walls are replete with Bible quotes and cute explanations of Salvation as the owners are devout Christians. But surely even staunch atheists will enjoy the food. The amazingly good bibimbab is vegetarian – and very authentic – but on request they replaced the fried egg with tofu, making it vegan, so I suppose the kimchi is vegan as well. The Ramen contain eggs, as is typical for this kind of noodle, but the other noodle dish is vegan as well.

The flight was pleasant enough, and having taken our backpacks on board, we didn’t lose time at the airport. We did get a tele2 SIM card (actually two, it was a package deal) for dirt-cheap 299 rub. Tele2 covers St. Petersburg and other big cities like Kazan with 4G, but there’s only 2G and thus roaming in Moscow, for example, meaning you can’t make calls. It didn’t make much of a difference, but depending on your needs, Megafon or Beeline might be the better choice. There’s a bus into the city every 15min or so, at 35 rub it’s much better than taking one of the proffered black taxis. For public transportation, you can get prepaid cards, either for a certain number of trips or days. Choose carefully, there’s one for the metro and another type for above-ground transport. Walking everywhere with the centre, we only used the metro to get to the starting bus stops for day trips, so getting a card might not pay off.

Having checked-in at our hotel on Sadovaya ulitsa, near Gostinyy Dvor, we did some window-shopping on Nevskiy Prospekt, a shopping street with a lot of character, at least compared to Nanjing Lu or Kurfürstendamm. Most buildings in central StP have historic facades, which adds to the appeal and makes idle strolls through the side streets a rather pleasant timekiller. We had some borshsh, vinegret salad, mulled wine (Glintwein) and buckthorn tea at zoom cafe, one of the few veg-friendly places on HappyCow in the vicinity. Across the street, we happened upon a Pirozhki place and took home a few of the filled buns. Pirozhki can be baked or fried, there are sweet and savory versions. Common fillings include: apple yabloko, cherry vizhnya, tvorog (Russian cottage cheese), cabbage kapusta, leek look (always in conjunction with egg yaitsa), potato kartoshka (sometimes with mushrooms s gribami) and meat myasa. The baked ones might be brushed with egg.

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