It wasn’t over

Part three of the incredible journey around St Petersburg took us to a little ‘plaza’ where we stumbled upon lots of little bars (hipster bars), one bar which contained the strangest painting I’ve seen in a while.

On the way, we crossed over a bridge where the river is lined with statues of horses. One horse in particular has a distinguishing feature. The story is that the statue maker discovered at the time of his creating his statue, that his wife was having an affair with another man. So, as any artist would, he made the horse’s genitalia resemble the other man’s face.

Definition of ‘dick head’ I guess…

Anyway, we were enjoying a drink in this bar and I couldn’t help but stare at this painting.

Clearly the one pint of dark beer had gone to my head!

Oksana had one last thing she wanted to show me before the day was over. As we were making our way out of the plaza we noticed a little kiosk selling hot drinks, donuts and ice cream. I wanted ice cream, the beard in the box informed us it was too cold for ice cream! Rubbish! He sold me a hot chocolate instead. I compromised because he had a beard.

We finally made it to our last destination, the mosaic garden.

Art students get allocated a piece of wall to allow them to create their designs. This probably isn’t in any guide books and is definitely worth visiting, thanks to my insider knowledge from Oksana!

And that, was just day one!

Needless to say, we slept well that night!

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First impressions cont…

The rest of my first day was a whirlwind tour of the city to help me get my bearings, locate the sights I wanted to visit and food places (very important!)

Starting on Vasilyevskiy island, where we’re staying.

Old Saint Petersburg stock exchange building.

Two columns have been built opposite this, we tried to find their meaning, all I found was in my book, they’re called Rostral Columns and the four seated figures represent Russia’s rivers, Neva, Volga, Dnieper and Volkhov. There are many other rivers in Russia, these are just the ‘greats’.

The Hermitage from across the river. Apparently when the country was doing badly, the monarchy at the time thought it was a good idea to buy loads of art to prove they were doing fine.

Sounds like girl logic!

Don’t know what it is with me and the ice, but once again, I was transfixed. Oksana explained how the broken ice that moves along the river is known as ‘walking ice’.

Continued our stroll along the river to find a poem by Pushkin about Saint Petersburg.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral in the background across the walking ice.

A little bit of Egypt…

A pretending manticore. Basically a seemingly random collection of stuff all along the river side!

Crossed over the bridge (and the walking ice) to New Holland.

New Holland is a little area that has been refurbed and taken over by hipsters. Lots of little ‘street food’ cafes, art, photography and book shops.

Oksana was on a mission to show me as much as possible, so after our quick hipster falafel lunch we moved on to see Palace Square, but not before stopping outside a cat cafe.

Finished off with the sun setting over Palace Square.

We managed to clock 15 miles walking!

Russia – first impressions

Cold like UK winter cold, so not so bad. Although after being in New Zealand this time last year just in time for winter, then returning to UK summer (which, let’s face it, means rain) followed by living in London Town over winter, and now just as the sun is starting to poke its head out of the clouds in the UK, I fly north!

Now I’m here, I’m glad I did, there’s still snow in certain areas and the cracked ice on the water looks like something out of ice age.

You ever get the feeling that you feel like your eyes have seen everything and nothing excites you?

Sounds awfully numb.

I didn’t realise I needed to see and experience something new and fresh until I saw these slabs of cracked ice.

Sounds crazy, but we had walked through this forest, which was beautiful in its own right.

We came to the lake, Lake Ladoga, which is huge.

There is this strange quiet that comes with snow.

You hold your breathe, listening, taking it all in.

Slowly approaching the bank of the expanse of water, can now hear the gentle ripples against the rocks and ice.

Then there is is, giant slabs of frozen water, cracked and melting under the clear, cloudless sky.

Neither my words or photos do this justice.

I don’t know why, but this was amazing to me.

I could have quite happily taken a deck chair and sat there for a good few hours, listening, reflecting and enjoying the view.

Like this guy:

Seeing this lake is just one example of how having a friend who is happy to take the time to show you their country is invaluable.

There is no way I would have ventured up here alone, for starters it was two hours away, two tubes and a bus ride into the middle of nowhere!

Secondly, I tend to rely heavily on tour guide books, as they usually cover the main sights that most tourists want to see, and this journey was not in the book!

Thirdly, as I have only just started learning basic Russian to see me through my journey, I have a personal translator and teacher! You learn more from a local than a language app!

After this epic walk it was time for some Russian food!

I love trying foods in other countries! Food and exploring, my favourite things!

The smell of fresh baked bread engulfs you as you walk through the door of this little cafe.

As it’s Easter this weekend, the locals kept coming in to buy easter cake to take away.

Pirashkí (пирожки) is a sort of stuffed bread roll, naturally, I ordered all the sweet ones.

But before stuffing my face with those, I tried buckwheat porridge, which isn’t like porridge at all, it’s more like giant cous cous!

I enjoyed, it’s supposed to be pretty good for you too! Winner!

Now for dessert!

I had the one stuffed with poppy seeds, I think I was picking black out of my teeth for the rest of the day but it was worth it!

Bus selfie!

I am swaddled in a million layers! I didn’t want to take a risk and catch cold, and even Oksana has let me borrow her coat on top!

I could barely move my arms!

Turns out my rip curl coat I bought in New Zealand is actually everything-proof like it says!

Whangarei

Only a short walk to see Whangarei falls, then a stroll around the town basin.




The local school kids had painted all the teams that will be taking part during the British Lion Tour.



I’d read about Mermaid pools in Matapouri bay. Bit of a climb to get there, especially in flip flops!


So worth it.


Crystal clear, lagoon-like pools were our reward for our trek.





The beach itself was alright too…






Had some fun playing with the slow-mo video.





This was mine and Laura’s last weekend together before I move onto my next travels, so naturally we had to have a drink to celebrate.


Didn’t take too many beers before we were subjected to unwanted male attention..






Naturally, not much sight seeing or even moving was done the day after.

Northlands

Can’t believe we have nearly seen the whole of New Zealand! 
We finished off the Coromandel by hugging some Kauri trees. Some of these trees have been here for thousands of years so they are doing their best to conserve them.


Hugging them was my contribution to conservation.
Currently exploring the northlands, where there are a few sparsely populated villages.
Our first stop was Omamari, on the West coast. We stayed at a campsite overlooking the Kaiiwi lake.






After a pretty rough nights sleep in the back of the car (the temperature is starting to drop!) we head to another Kauri forest. We weren’t allowed to hug these trees.

These pictures can never show the sheer size of these giants.





From the Kauri forest we head up the coast to Maunganui Bluff. I took a walk on the beach and Laura explored the mountain. We both got soaked to the skin, I was wind and sand beaten, Laura covered in mud. The signs of a good walk! 



We dried off best we could in the car and continued north. 



We stopped in Opononi and found the only campsite available. This is where we learned there are very few towns. Luckily we had enough food to last until we found a store! 


At least there’s plenty of drinking water for us! 

Taumarunui

Hit some traffic on the way to Taumarunui.


Staying with some friends of Laura’s on a farm here, and we were lucky enough to be taken sheep wrangling in the morning.


Clinging to the back of the quad bike while being taken up the mountains of the farm land.








As it’s clear today we can see mountains off in the distance.




Shearing time for some of these unsuspecting sheep.




More mountain exploring for Laura and I. Up Sunshine Track. I have no idea why it is called this, and so far it was the worst marked path we have had the pleasure of getting lost on!


In some areas it looks like rainforest, then the view from the top looked like a vista over some welsh hills.





This wasn’t enough for us! We had to walk up a mountain to complete our day!



I was basically on all fours going up and nearly on my butt on the way down! It was worth it for the views and invigorating feeling!
Beer time! 

Hawera

Hawera is near Egmont National Park, which is home to Taranaki volcano.
The rain was torrential, luckily we could listen to it from the comfort of our motel room. Luxury for a few nights, a spa bath, a soft bed, a kitchen! All the simple pleasures!
The sun did put in an appearance the following day which allowed us to walk to the beach.












We did venture up the volcano, it was misty.


On a clear day you can probably see all the way to the sea. But not today.
Next destination Taumarunui.