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Eight Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Morocco

Eight Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

When planning our travels to Morocco here’s a list of things we were told:

You don’t want to go there?
It’s dangerous
Didn’t you hear about those murders?
The people are African!
It is a third world country
Is it safe going there?
The roads and drivers are bad
Your life could be in danger

I could go on and on about all the reasons why others told us why we shouldn’t visit Morocco and here are my reasons why I believe you shouldn’t visit Morocco.

1. You enjoy the bitterly cold, often snowy, climate of Europe in winter

2. You don’t like stunning scenery

3. Understanding a new culture is not a biggie for you

4. It’s not like home and you will be taken out of your comfort zone

5. They eat different food there and you can’t find fish and chips

6. Learning about history is boring
7. Meeting friendly interesting people doesn’t appeal to you

8. You like spending your hard earned money in overpriced countries!

 

So for all those reasons, I think you should not visit Morocco!

After just five weeks we’ve fallen in love with this new country. 

Yes Morocco is in Africa, yes the roads are bad in places, yes some of the drivers are bad (unlike in our country, right?) and no we haven’t been able to find fish and chips.  And Yes we were taken hostage by a local Moroccan man for six days!

Here’s our highlights in picture form so far…

#1 The Sahara Desert

#2 The Inland Gorges

#3 The Variations In Scenery

#4 The Interesting Medinas

#5 The friendly people 

For more information to convince you why you should visit Morocco have a read of these related posts below.

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Fantastic Fes

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 4 in Morocco

Week 4 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 4 had us driving from Foum Zguid, through Tata, to Icht and finally arriving in Guelmim, a distance of 424 kms.  Click to enlarge map.

This week, discover the roads less travelled through some of Morocco’s back country and check out the unforgettable scenery as it changes regularly throughout our journey.

 

The Road Less Travelled

Day 22: Foum Zguid; Monday 18th Feb

We ventured out today along a ‘local’ Moroccan road with some trepidation.  A recently purchased English map book of Morocco gives us some clues about what the roads ahead might be like.  The options are yellow roads (motorways), red roads (national highways), green roads (regional highways), light yellow (local) roads or white tracks and paths.  Having already experienced tracks in Erg Chebbi I think we’ll give those a miss wherever we can.  Unfortunately, the map doesn’t go into enough detail to tell you whether the minor roads are sealed or a piste  (unsealed) road so you really just have to make the best guess you can.

The stretch of local road between Tazenakht and Foum Zquid was the first long section of local road that we have set out upon.

TIP: Make sure you purchase a recent map as a backup to electronic options such as your GPS or Maps.me.  The recommended map is the Michelin Morocco National Map 742 and you can find the most recent version on Amazon using this link.  https://amzn.to/2C181i5.

We didn’t buy one before we arrived then had trouble finding anything worth having that was current.  We eventually found a 2015 edition of a Road Guide to Morocco that was a lot more expensive and not as good as the Michelin Map.   We also bought the latest electronic maps for our Garmin 760 LDT.  These weren’t cheap at nearly 75 pounds however we much prefer ease and convenience of navigating with the Garmin compared with maps.me or Google Maps and when the cost was spread out over all of the days you may spend in Morocco, it really is insignificant.  A micro SD card you can plug into your Garmin can be found on Amazon here (https://amzn.to/2Uf40xv)

The almost complete lack of any other cars is somewhat of a give away that we are no longer on the usual tourist route.  We almost hold our breath as we turn off from the red R108 to the yellow R111.  The road surpassed our expectations and while still being disconcertingly narrow in places and exhibiting a number of potholes and crumbling verges, it was surprisingly kind to us and the traffic non-existent.  We passed through uneventfully and unscathed, phew!

Foum Zguid

We rolled into the Foum Zguid ‘Camping La Palmeraie” camping ground (GPS coordinates 30.0870 -6.8828) at about 3pm, eager to experience the family hospitality that reviewers on the “Park 4 Night” App raved about.  We weren’t disappointed and before long Rashid, the owner, arrived greeting Alan with a handshake and me with a double hug (both sides).  Rashid wanted to make us his special chicken tagine for dinner but we already had dinner sorted, and suggested that we will try one tomorrow perhaps.  He has a garden, where the vegetables that go into his cooking are grown and offered for us to help ourselves.  I just didn’t feel it was right to do so, as the locals have very little.  Vegetables are so inexpensive here that we can buy what we need from virtually any local town we pass through.

A word of caution, taste before drinking the water from the camping ground as with a lot of the tap water around here, it may be ‘potable’, which means safe to drink, but it certainly didn’t taste good.

Alan had a rare treat of being allowed into Rashid’s kitchen to watch him prepare chicken tagines for the other campers this evening.  The hygiene standards leave a lot to be desired but at least we know everything will be cooking for quite a while so any bugs will be well done along with the meat.

Cooking Facilities In Camping Ground

Day 23: Foum Zguid; Tuesday 19th Feb

Today was spring cleaning day for Betsy; after being in Morocco for a few weeks, and especially out in the desert, there’s dust and sand in every nook and cranny and a fine layer on every surface.  After several hours of hard slog, the inside looks shiny and new again, and while it will need to be cleaned again this might help to keep my asthma at bay.

Rashid was very friendly and brought all of the campers two small loaves of hot Moroccan bread every morning which is a lovely treat.

Have we mentioned before that virtually every other motorhome you see in Morocco is French and that very few French speak English?  Well, this certainly is the case so we were happy to see a German motorhome pull up with a young couple, Anna and Miko.  We were grateful for the opportunity to converse with other people willing and able to speak English.

Tonight we tucked into Rashid’s special goat tagine at 150 dirhams (€15 or $NZD23) and I was rather impressed with the taste of goat.  We will definitely have that again but next time, we will be cooking it ourselves.

Yummy Goat Tagine

When in Morocco be prepared to be asked for all manner of things.  So far we’ve been asked for aspirin, tissues, t-shirts, shoes, pants, bonbons (sweets), money and wine.  I wonder what will be next?  (Spoiler for next week, beer!)

Tip: Consider bringing along some low-cost wine that you don’t mind giving away.  Although you can always say ‘no’ you do sometimes form a sort of relationship with the locals when you spend time with them and having a ‘gift’ bottle or two on board can help preserve your limited stocks of your favourite tipple and make you out to be the good guys.  

Stunning Scenery Enroute to Tata

Day 24: Tata; Wednesday 20th Feb

The N2 National Highway to Tata was very quiet.  We had just one car pass us on the whole 140km stretch.  It’s strange that while the landscape, on one hand, appears bleak and barren, it is also beautiful and constantly changing as we travel through it.  Alan just had to pull over a few times and take some more photos of rocks, sand, and mountains.

Stunning Desert Landscapes

A Berber Home In The Middle of Nowhere

Camping Hyatt, Tata (GPS coordinates 29.73861, -7.97786) has a picturesque location beside a river, and is an easy bike ride or walk into the town.  Alternatively, there is a municipal camping ground right in town which looked adequate but we preferred the extra space, tranquility, and water views of Camping Hyatt.

Shopping Moroccan Style

Although Tata is a reasonably sized town, if you expected to find a decent sized supermarket, you would be sorely disappointed.  Instead, there are lots of small shops which seems to have their own niche items. We went to four different shops to buy typical grocery items that we’d expect to pick up from just one supermarket.  Not in Tata, but all part of the experience and the fun with plenty of time on our hands.

Alan Completing His Supermarket Shopping

Purchasing fresh vegetables in Morocco is an education in itself.  You collect a bucket, walk around and place the goodies in your bucket, then take it to the greengrocer for him to price.  He takes out anything that has its own higher pricing, in our case strawberries and avocado, then weighs everything else which shares the one price.

A great find was a small specialist spice shop.  Our ground coriander stocks were down to zero and we hadn’t been able to find it anywhere, except now, here in Tata.  We were also out of ground nutmeg (I know, a complete disaster for any motorhomer) and we were disappointed to see that he only had whole nutmegs. Our disappointment turned in amazement as he whizzed up the nutmegs in his industrial looking grinder in no time at all.  We ended up with rather more spices than we expected to buy but happy to have had another new Moroccan experience.

Morocco is the original home of spices.  Leave yours behind when you visit here as there is everything you’ll need, and more.  Make sure you purchase some Ras El Hanout, which is a blend of anywhere between 5 and 45 different spices!  Everyone has their own recipe and you won’t be disappointed as they are all delicious.  My favourite is a 44 spice mix we purchased in Erg Chebbi.

Bulk Bins House Dried Fruit, Grains, & Spices

Day 25: Tata; Thursday 21 Feb

Today was a lazy day, chatting with Peter and Carmel, our English camping neighbours and fellow intrepid Morocco adventurers.  Swapping stories and experiences is always entertaining and this took most of the day.  They had come from the west coast where we are headed, and they were going to where we had been so we could exchange information about what to see, and where to go and stay.

We were soon blessed with lovely German neighbours on the other side of us and Helga speaks good English.  We shared stories and discovered we are likely to be visiting Poland at the same time later this year so make plans to stay in touch.

To the right of the camping ground was an old, almost abandoned looking settlement built on top of a hill which looked interesting.   We took off on bikes to explore however after cycling up a rough track and through the walls, we soon realised that there were people living here and it wasn’t really appropriate for tourists to be wandering around wielding their cameras.  As is typical of many old towns, the vacant buildings are left to decay into ruins while newer ones sprout up on any spare land.  It is often hard to tell what is abandoned and what is occupied!  The people still greeted us with warm smiles and a polite bonjour but we didn’t want to intrude further and left soon after.

Tasting Sfenj

We always like to taste the local food and had to try what looked, and tasted like doughnuts being deep fried by a street vendor in a huge wok of smoking oil.  In fact, I’d call them doughnuts for lack of another name, except they’re called Sfenj.  I came across a recipe (below) if you’d like to try to make them for yourself.  Sfenj is an unsweetened, airy and fluffy doughnut.  It is chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside.  It has an interesting yeasty and delicate taste and is unsweetened so can be eaten with savoury or sweets. There is usually a big bowl of sugar beside the frying wok so those with a sweet tooth can dip them in for extra sugar hit.

Try These For An Occasional Treat Or Come To Morocco And Buy One From This Chap

Icht

Day 26: Icht;  Friday 22 Feb

Driving from Tata to Icht the roads were empty of any traffic to speak of and the landscape stoney, harsh, dry, and brown.  Grass just doesn’t exist in such barren countryside and nothing on legs seems able to survive except the odd donkey picking away at withered up weeds and thorns.  The few towns or villages we came across had only a handful of people wandering around.  As usual, some school children gave us big smiles and energetic waves and got excited when we gave them a big two-handed wave back.

The mountains here have changed appearance from those nearer the Sahara. They are devoid of any vegetation or trees.  The only thing we see is rocks and more rocks in different shades of browns with a spattering of hardy straggly trees and bushes.  Occasionally we spot an oasis where the groundwater has ventured close enough to the surface to be exploited by a patch of green palm trees, possibly date palms but it’s hard to tell because apparently, we’re out of season for dates (try October).

The camping ground that welcomed us this evening was Camping Borj Biramane, Icht (GPS Coordinates 29.05974, -8.85385).  It’s one of the better camping grounds we have been at, due to actually having toilet paper, soap and even a hand towel to dry hands!  This is the FIRST time in Morocco to come across all three in the one location, ah bliss.  Plus their showers are hot with a hanging shower rose, double bliss!

Alan cycled into the small township of Icht with his camera to capture some of the local images then rose early the next morning to catch the desert scene at first light.  Once again, Morocco delights with it own particular brand of simple beauty.

TIP: Bring with you a good quality lip moisturiser and a skin moisturiser because the dry air can play havoc with your skin.

TOP TIP: Make sure you wear footwear at all times as picking up a thorn in your foot can hurt for days, as I can testify to!

We were told (and I’ve since verified it as being true) that you can get rabies from cats, (albeit this is very uncommon) and given I like to feed and pat them, I am devastated to learn this. It was reported to us that an English lady died of rabies caught from a cat and this could result from a scratch, bite or even a lick! Cats are now sadly off limits to us. :-(
. It is recommended to have a rabies vaccination before coming to Morocco but even with that in your system, you still need to have at least two additional injections if you think you have been exposed to the disease.

Not To Be Trusted (sadly)

A friendly local guide knocked on our door to offer a two and a half hour walking tour, for 30 dirhams (€3 or NZ$4.60), to visit the local village, the mosque and museum and see the caves where the villages would hide out in times of war.  We declined this time but have pencilled it in for when we return to Morocco.

Wild Camping In Guelmim

Day 27: Guelmim;  Saturday 23 Feb & Day 28: Sunday 24 Feb

The first part of the N12 road from Icht to Guelmim hardly qualifies as a National Highway and is a narrow one-lane tar sealed road with no shoulder to speak of. The tarseal is oftentimes broken away at the side, with some nasty looking drop-offs.  The traffic here was heavier and really required both passing cars to plonk one tyre off the road and into the loose stones.  The local drivers appeared to play chicken with foreign vehicles expecting they will be the first to cave in and move over to protect their vehicle.  And they’re right. Betsy is our home and sustaining any damage would be a significant blow to our travels.  We’re just grateful that Betsy has new tyres that can cope okay with the rough sides and our tyre pressure warning gauge gives us some reassurances.

We had been advised to keep our wing mirror folded in on narrow, windy roads to protect it from being damaged by on-coming traffic.  This was the first time we heeded that advice as we didn’t want to lose our wing mirror as happened to some friends of ours the week before (thanks to a truck not keeping to his side of the road).

This road would have to be one of the least impressive that we’ve travelled on, however, it’s still passable and can be navigated at a reasonable pace, so don’t avoid it.  I don’t think there are many alternatives anyway, lol.

To be fair to Morocco the majority of roads we’ve encountered have been better than expected.  Roadworks are everywhere and it’s easy to see they are trying their best to improve the state of the roads Morocco wide.

Our free stopping point tonight in Guelmim was outside the Marjane Supermarket (GPS coordinates 28.96757, -10.03258). The actual parking area is nothing more than gravel and wasteland but has the benefit of being near a fairly new shopping centre which mainly houses a large supermarket jammed packed with everything one has been dreaming about but couldn’t previously find, e.g. ice creams.

The majority of motorhomes around us tonight are French.  Did we tell you that they travel in groups or packs of four or five vans?  Safety in numbers I guess but at no time have we feel unsafe.  That being said we are employing the usual safety precautions, the main one being to stay at camping grounds.  When there is an opportunity for wild camping we play it safe and follow our rules.

We sat here for a couple of days catching up on administrative paperwork and emails, so I won’t bore you with the details.

TIP: Make sure you don’t park on the sealed carpark here overnight or you may be asked to move. 

Be warned that children come around looking for food or money from the motorhomers but they didn’t show any concerning behaviour.

Visiting The Town of Guelmim

One of the highlights of the week was the opportunity to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the very traditional feeling Guelmim town centre.  Modern cars jostled for space on the narrow roads with donkeys and carts piled high carrying all types of fruit and veges, or second, third or even fourth hand bits and pieces of every imaginable household items.  Those not fortunate enough to have a donkey had to push their carts around by hand and those without carts just sat on the footpath to sell whatever they had to offer.

The moving flashes of bright colour were the local women wearing the traditional melhafa outfits which are prevalent in the southern Moroccan and Western Sahara regions.  The gorgeous colours are a refreshing change from the drabber outfits of the eastern and northern areas and it seemed as if every woman was wearing different colours or patterns.


Costs for Weeks 1 – 4

The costs for week four represent the quiet week we’ve had, but don’t worry as we make up for it in week 5!

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Join us next week when we meet a local Moroccan Man who takes us under his wing and shows us another side of Morocco.

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Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 1

Week 5

Week 2

Week 6

Week 3

How To Use Argan Oil

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 2

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series LPG

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 1.

We limped on through Finland very mindful by now of our dwindling gas levels.  Anything and everything possible is being considered to make this last bottle see out the distance.  We just hope we don’t run out of gas before we run out of country.  Then there’s the looming thought of it’s getting colder and before long we may need heating (another gas guzzler).

One thing that helped to extend our gas consumption was a pre-planned, albeit quick, trip to St Petersburg, Russia for three days.  Betsy, however, still has to use gas to keep the freezer cold (we can’t bring ourselves to spend another €8 per night to be plugged into electricity while we’re away).   This does take some pressure off the gas consumption somewhat and as you will see below, every bit helps.

We leave Helsinki and head north.  The first stop about an hours drive is a place called Hyvinkaa where we located a business called Best Caravans.  Not only do they have caravans, but they also have the best, and I mean the best, free camping spot that we have ever come across, bar none.  Yes they have electricity (phew) and they also provide a washing machine, a dryer (rare to find this), a double shower (nice) and then, wait for it… they offer a sauna!  All this for free (provided you buy something in their shop and/or secure their loyalty card).  So after buying some toilet tabs, which are always needed, we take advantage of these facilities while plugging in to give our fridge a much needed break from sucking on the gas.

Whenever we are plugged in the kettle goes away and the electric jug comes out.  I prefer this as electric is much quicker (especially when in urgent need of a quick cuppa).

We venture further north and planned our route around two more Best Caravan franchises.  Neither, however, as fruitful as the first, but that’s okay because it’s electricity we’re mainly looking for and were incredibly thankful for.

We found a LPG supplier reasonably close to the Finland border in Sweden.  Alan phoned to ensure our information was accurate and that they did, in fact, have LPG.  They did.

So the original plan was to drive from Oulu to Sweden, get the gas, then back into Finland and up to Rovaniemi to see Santa.  That plan changed to driving to Rovaniemi first, then across into Sweden, back into Finland and head north.

In the end we drove to Rovaniemi from Oulu, thankful as we saw the Aurora Borealis for the first time ever (so exciting!), then decided that we could possibly make a run for Norway and drive all the way over to Tromso for LPG.

By now the second tank is oh so low and I’m sure we’re sucking fumes.  We have reduced the number of hot drinks we consume and look for meze type food for dinner.   So cheese on crackers with salami and relish, anything that doesn’t need gas becomes our dinner.  If we do choose to a warm dinner we make sure it’s using one pot that is watched carefully.

We never skip a nightly shower that is until now.  With gas levels at a critically low level, we opt to skip a night due to prioritisation, a cuppa is more important than smelling good.  We reduced our timed water heating to 15 minutes which was ample providing it wasn’t a hair washing night.

The temperature is due to drop like a lead balloon to just two degrees tomorrow night.  I’m keen to drive through to Tromsø in one go, but it’s over six hours.  When we are used to one or two hours at a stretch, a six-hour drive is a far cry for us to consider.  I reluctantly resign to one further night in Finland and think about all the clothes I can wear in bed to stay warm tonight.    Thankfully the heater in Betsy is very good, so it gets turned on in short bursts just to take the chill out of the air and assist with sleeping.

We park tonight at a layby and notice, surprisingly, there are several other motorhomes and some caravans parked here too.  All through northern Finland we seem to have been on our own at overnight stops, but not tonight.  I brave the bone-biting cold wind and knock on the doors of other travelers inviting them to come over later for a drink and chat.  I’m hoping the distraction will get my mind off the lack of gas and more bodies inside Betsy will help to keep the warmth in.

The other motorhomers must have wondered who this was knocking on their door on dusk.  Dressed in all the warm clothes I could find, hat covering the blonde hair, and a scarf wrapped around my neck to fight off that bitter cold, I brave my fear of shyness and knock away.  Most occupants open their doors, and some speak English.  I get some polite no thank you declines, some who don’t speak English soon shut their doors to Mrs Blobby, and those who do engage in conversation are delighted at the invitation and agree to valiantly brave the cold and come across after dinner.

My plan worked, we have a lovely evening meeting new and interesting people and listen to their travel tales.  The night passes quickly and the temperature inside Betsy is cozy (without the need for any gas, whoops, I mean heating).

Once the evening congregation is finished, we say goodbye to our new friends and jump into bed to stay warm.  The heater goes on briefly and we hope we are well insulated from the jaw-dropping thermometer-dropping temperatures outside.  It works.

The next day we make a run to Tromsø and oh boy are we blessed with the most glorious day.  That’s a post for another time, needless to say we arrived safe and sound, filled up with that beautiful and most precious juice, LPG, and were on our way to great food and warmth inside Betsy.

So how long did we stretch bottle number two?  Well, that’s a good question.

Let me step back to the beginning of having two fill tanks of LPG, sourced from Sweden on 7th August.  We crossed into Finland later that day and didn’t fill up again until we were in Norway on 17th September.  So that gives us a staggering 41 days of gas consumption.

The first bottle was empty by the time we left the Awesome Åland Islands on 19th August (so that bottle lasted 12 days).  Therefore we stretched, and I mean stretched thin, the second bottle to a staggering 29 days.  HOW COOL IS THAT???  Just don’t ask me to do that again, especially when the weather starts to turn cold and we are in the north of Scandinavia.

Looking back now I would not, for the life of me, have skipped Finland just due to their lack of LPG.  (I do have to ask, however, Finland why don’t you have LPG?).  Finland offers so much to see and do and it even gave us challenges that looking back now, were fun.

So if you have LPG and have discounted traveling to this part of the world because of a lack of LPG then take a leaf out of our book, put on your big boy/girl pants and grunt up.  Making our gas last for 41 days is epic and if we can do it, then so can you.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet and want you to beat our record.  I dare you….

 

Day 1 St Petersburg Russia

Day 1 St Petersburg Russia

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series St Petersburg Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

We wake up on the ferry which has now steamed into St Petersburg, Russia and we are excited to see the buildings on shore.  Interestingly they are not at all what I expected.  There are tall high-rise buildings more akin to Dubai than how I thought Russia would look. The ship sails onwards up into the river mouth for another two hours before finally coming to a halt.

With a 10am ‘Introduction to St Petersburg Tour’ booked (a ‘rare for us’ paid guided bus tour of a city), we are among the first to disembark and make our way down the gangplank to the waiting and oh so serious passport and customs officers. The somber atmosphere makes me stand up straight, take note, and behave myself.  As if by some unspoken rule I whisper instead of talking in a normal tone, just in case I draw undue attention to myself and get into trouble.

Being processed through customs and immigration was an interesting exercise.  Only one person at a time and don’t try to make small talk.  They are there for a job and it’s not their job to engage you in idle conversation.  The lady in front of us in the line was four foot nothing high and was a sweet old lady.  The officer had to stand up to peer over his booth to ensure it was the same lady he could see on the documentation in front of him. Given I was up next I was expecting the same treatment, although not quite that short, I’m still ‘fun sized’ as my husband of six foot says.

We sailed through the official part and onto Russian soil.  I look down as if to find something different. I didn’t.  All soil, or at least concrete, looks the same the world over.

Standing on the ground in St Petersburg is for me like being a kid in a candy shop with an empty tummy, big eyes, and unlimited money.  I have to keep pinching myself to see if this is real.  My mind takes me a million miles away back to my childhood in NZ when the thought of being here was out of reach and beyond comprehension.  I smile and let the wave of realisation wash over me like a warm blanket. I smile again and feel the butterflies of anticipation start to take flight as I consider what is about to be revealed to me after all these years of dreaming.

We climb on the bus and I opt to sit at the back with the naughty children, I mean husband.  Before long the half empty (or should I say half full) bus takes off on our three-hour guided introduction to St Petersburg.

The day is somewhat overcast and we soon find out that this is a typical day for St. Petersburg.  In fact, according to our guide, the city has just 60 days of sunshine a year and for this reason and in an attempt to be more cheerful, many of the buildings are painted in bright, happy, sunshine colours.

We don’t worry, however, as we have a strong belief that the sun follows us and so we are expecting weather is on the way.  Our faith in the sun proves to be well founded in the days ahead.

Driving from the ship into the city we encounter the industrial side of St Petersburg.  It’s grimy, dirty, and run down.  We are told the factories are slowly being moved out into the countryside to make way for beautifying the city on this valuable land.

Once we leave the industrial zone we are blown away by the sights of this outstanding gem of a city.

OMG! I’m so glad we are not driving Betsy through these streets.  For your information, don’t ever try to bring a motorhome, (at least the size of Betsy, 7.5M) into the wee streets of St Petersburg.  Even in the bus I cringed as the driver hit a (flexible) sign on our very first corner!  I am so grateful I am not a bus driver.

That said, he actually did an awesome job, however not without administering several blasts on the horn (I’m assuming deservedly so).  The drivers here seem to have zero tolerance for hesitation and even as pedestrians you have to make your intentions crystal clear, take the bull by the horns, and step out on the pedestrian crossing!  It appears that even if the crossing light is green for go, the drivers will see an opportunity to cross in front of you, so beware.

Sights & Attractions From Our Bus Tour

Ancient Sphinx

The first place we stop is at the two Ancient Sphinx by the Neva River. Not many people know that the northernmost location of an Egyptian Sphinx is actually in Russia.  This makes the Sphinx of Saint Petersburg, probably, the only place in the world where you can see a three thousand year old sphinx covered in snow. (Thankfully not on our watch).  These Sphinx were actually purchased by the city, not gifted as if often the case with monument such as these.

Egyptian Sphinx

Rostral Columns

Rostral Columns – these two columns are famous landmarks that were used as navigation beacons for the many ships sailing down the four rivers, Neva, the Volga, the Volkov and lastly the Dnieper.  Used in the 1800s these beacons were gas lit and are still lit on occasion for certain ceremonies.

St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

The entrance to the church had three elderly ladies sitting begging for whatever the tourists could spare.  I always feel sad when seeing beggars and give them a few dollars.  The church was stunning inside; unfortunately for you, there were no photos allowed, meaning I cannot share the majesty with you and unfortunately for me, as the visual memories fade oh so quickly.  I deeply respect their request as the church is protecting those who come to worship, without the concern of being photographed.  There was in fact a service going on and I noticed everyone was standing.  I trust, or at least hope, it wasn’t a long service because the average age of the congregation was not exactly youthful.

Just being allowed entry into this church was a gift.  A rare chance to stand and drink in all the colours, decorations, artifacts, and bright colours was something of a sensory overload.  I really didn’t want to leave in any great hurry.  This is one of those times I wish I had a photographic memory, oh well, that’s why we return to these places I guess.

Isaakievskaya Square

Also known as St Isaac’s Square, this was our final stopping point where the monument to Nicholas I was depicted above his horse.

From here we left the bus to head towards our hotel.  I found out from a fellow American tourist that they, and others on the bus tour, were to spend the next two hours in the Hermitage Museum before boarding the ship and heading back to Helsinki.  Having just one short day in St Petersburg seemed a shame to me and once it became apparent just what this city had to offer, they were agreeing with me.  Also to be limited to only two hours in the Hermitage Museum was almost criminal as our five-hour meander on Day Two proved.

It didn’t take long to find our hotel, The Pushkin Inn Hotel.  We couldn’t have booked a better location (thanks Alan), for its proximity to the city, the sights and the best attractions available in St Petersburg, Russia.

On arrival they had champagne waiting for us (to celebrate our anniversary) and had very kindly given us the only standard room with a bath.  When you’ve been living in a motorhome for 15 months you will understand the importance of that!

Our Accommodation For The Next Two Nights

Kazan Cathedral

Once settled in our room, we headed out again with the intention of making the most of our short stay here. Our first stop was The Kazan Cathedral.  This is one of the biggest Cathedrals in St Petersburg.  It took ten years to build from 1801 to 1811 and was modelled off Rome’s Vatican’s Basilica of St. Peter.

The cathedral was intended to be the country’s main Orthodox Church. After the war of 1812 (during which Napoleon was defeated) the church became a monument to Russian victory.  The cathedral became a museum housing the collections of the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, which displayed numerous pieces of religious art and served anti-religious propaganda purposes.  It was only a couple of years ago that regular church services were resumed in the cathedral, though it still shares the premises with the museum, from whose name the word “atheism” has now been omitted.

Inside the architecture is once again impressive, boasting large marble columns, huge chandeliers, gold picture frames and the heavy use of gold throughout the cathedral, domes, and numerous statues.

I was surprised at the significantly long line-up of worshipers waiting to pay their respects and kiss a picture that I couldn’t quite make out on the far wall.  The line moved slowly and continued to grow during our hour-long visit.

The Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral Columns

Worshippers Queue to Kiss the Picture

Kazan Cathedral Dome

Church of the Savior on Blood

The final tourist destination for us today was the Church of the Savior on Blood (also called Church of the Resurrection of Christ).  This is one of the most significant churches in St. Petersburg, for its more than 7,500 square metres of famous shimmering mosaics and marble patterned floor.  This Church was my favourite and compelled more wow’s from my mouth than any other.  It was simply breathtaking and whilst you can enjoy our photos, the church has to be seen to be believed.  We stood for an hour just admiring skill, artistry and craftsmanship that went into constructing and decorating this church.  It wasn’t large inside, but it took a long time to take it all in.  Plus there were lots and lots of people also enjoying the sights (and keeping dry due to the howling rain bomb happening outside).

The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated, following an attack on March 13th, 1881.  He actually died in hospital from his wounds, however there is a shrine within the building marking the actual place where he was struck down.  The construction of the church began in 1883 during the reign of Alexander III (son of Alexander II) and was finished in 1907, under the reign of Nicholas II.  Extensive damage occurred to the interior due to looting and ransacking immediately after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the church was later closed by the Communist government.  It was used as a temporary morgue during the Seige of Leningrad in World War II and thereafter as a vegetable warehouse.

An interesting fact I only learnt after our visit was that during the war, a bomb fell on the highest dome but did not explode, and it remained in place for 19 years.  When the workers went up to the dome to patch some leaks they found and removed the bomb.  It was then that they decided to begin the restoration of the Church, which after 27 years, was inaugurated as a state museum where visitors can appreciate the building and learn the history of the assassination of Alexander II.

This church has to be one of the most photographed in St Petersburg both from the outside and inside.  See what you think of these pictures.

The Church of the Saviour On Blood

Outstanding Dining Experience

We are now officially exhausted from a full-on, but satisfying, day out and about in St Petersburg.  We retire back to the hotel for a well deserved soak in a hot bubble bath accompanied by a wee vino that helps me wind down and reflect on an amazing first day in this stunning city.

In the interests of not walking any further today in order to preserve our feet for tomorrow, we pop next door to the restaurant attached to the hotel.  We find ourselves served a delightful dinner, the likes of which have eluded us for the past 15 months (bar one exception in Italy), however the prices here are incredibly reasonable, if not cheap.

Alan ordered the beef cheeks, served with green mashed potato, honey carrot and local cranberry sauce.  He chose, as usual, the pick of the dishes tonight.  It was roast duck for me (a dish I can seldom go part), served with pear stewed in wine.  We then ordered a salad of caramelised pumpkin with beetroot, shevre cheese and pecan nut.  A great accompaniment to a superb meal.  With food this good, we can’t leave dessert behind, so I ordered Honey Cake topped with red berries and Alan dove into the Sharlotka Apple Tart, which is a traditional Russian apple tart with almond crust and orange zest served with vanilla ice cream.

Bellies full and smiles on our faces, we retire for the evening to prepare for day two in St Petersburg.

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72-hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg you are reading now includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood 

Day 2 St Petersburg includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night 

Day 3 St Petersburg includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

 

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Day 2 St Petersburg Russia

Day 2 St Petersburg Russia

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series St Petersburg Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

Oooh it’s so exciting waking up in a new place, especially one as foreign as Russia.

Keen to see what today offers, we opt for a quick bite to eat at a local French patisserie, Garcon, around the corner and then head on our way.

The plan for today is The Hermitage Museum, followed by the ballet, Swan Lake this evening and then viewing the night lights of St Petersburg on an extended journey back to the hotel.

 

The Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage Museum is the second biggest art museum in the world, behind Paris’ Louvre.  With it’s more than 1,000 rooms and over three million items, they say it would take eight years to see everything if viewing each item for just one minute.

Our guide tells us that the palace was built for Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, although she never actually occupied it.  Catherine the Great, Peter’s wife became the first owner.

The museum is made up of six individual buildings, five of which are open to the public.  These include the stunning Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre.

The Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. The museum celebrates the anniversary of its founding each year on 7 December, Saint Catherine’s Day.  It has been open to the public since 1852 and boasts the largest collection of paintings in the world.

The fact that we lost five hours wandering around the museum, and only scratched the surface of what there is to see, is a testament to not only its size but also to the sheer volume of interesting and varied artefacts keeping us entertained.  In fact, as you will see from the photos we were hugely impressed with the buildings, each room boasting fabulous architecture that we had to survey, before then turning our attention to what was actually on display.

Five hours was not enough time, however with tired feet, and brains full to overflowing, it was time to leave.  If we were staying in St Petersburg for longer there is no doubt the Hermitage would have received our patronage for at least a second day.

With our cameras fill with amazing photos, this is just a very small sample of what we saw here.  Enjoy these and click on each image to enlarge.

The Hermitage Museum

Famous Russian Ballet – Swan Lake

A trip to Russia without seeing the ballet would be verging on criminal.  What better place is there to experience my first ever ballet and what better ballet to enjoy than the famous Swan Lake?  I read up about the ballet beforehand so I could at least follow what was happening, and thankful I did because there was no interpretation forthcoming.

The ballet was showcased in The Alexandrinsky Theater to a full house.  We were in the third row from the front with a close-up view of the dancers, their expressions, their costumes and their dedication to their performance.

As expected, their costumes were beautiful as were the stage props.  There was no expense spared to bring the story to light and entertain the punters.  Unfortunately, but understandable, there were no photos allowed during the performance, however, I managed to click a couple at the end.

The Beautiful Alexandrinsky Theater Lit Up at Night

A Sneak Preview Inside the Alexandrinsky Theater

Finale of Swan Lake

The Fairy Lights of St Petersburg at Night

“A city of lights” is how I’d describe this spectacular city when driving around at night.  We asked the taxi driver for a guided city lights tour on our way back to the hotel and he gladly obliged for a few more roubles.

St Petersburg by night is lit up like 10,000 candles with nearly every building in the central area liberally doused with coloured illumination.  The bright, dancing lights perfectly compliment the vibrant night life that spills out of the restaurants and clubs and crowds the footpath with tourists, buskers, street performers and locals.

Here is some of what we captured on our tour.

The Hermitage by Night

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72 hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood 

Day 2 St Petersburg is what you are reading now and includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night 

Day 3 St Petersburg includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

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