Greetings From Saint Petersburg, Russia! (10-15 July 2017)
Finally I had made it. Russia was one of the first things on the list of places I want to go to, to see the culture and old Soviet buildings (and much older architectures) and of course learn Sambo from the birthplace of the sport. Although the flight over and navigation to the hostel was simple and easy, even though the bus charged me twice the bus fare because of my backpack, and the customs checkpoint went smooth (which I had been a little anxious over given my past career in the military), the steps taken to make it to Russia were more complex. Russia requires a Visa to visit and it’s quite involved with the amount of paperwork and information they require, with a lot of pre-booking before even acquiring the Visa. This would be the first time I had ever had to apply for a Visa for visiting a country as well so I was a bit unsure of all the necessary steps, and given the personal importance of this stop in the Odyssey, I was nervous to make sure it was all done properly.
When I was first laying out the rough draft of the Odyssey itinerary I had only a few points to go by outside of Canada. I knew I would be flying to London in March, and eventually wanted to make it to Thailand and Japan, but much else between, and the order in which I would visit these spots, was yet to be determined. When I saw on the BJJ Globetrotters map that there were gyms to visit in Russia and Morocco I decided I had to add those places, but I would have to plan out my route carefully so I could get the right paperwork completed and give myself the proper time to visit all the other places in between. With the Russian Visa Canadians, and most other countries, are allowed to apply as much as six months in advance for their trip. I decided Russia would be a great next stop after my maximum time of 3 months in the European Union was up, but when that would be depended on whether or not I made a stop in Morocco, which in turn dictated when I could apply for the Visa before leaving Canada. I could of course apply later but traveling while mailing my passport home and waiting for it to be returned and hoping it doesn’t get lost in the mail was not something I wanted to deal with.
I decided the first step was contacting the BJJ scene in Morocco about visiting and training with them, to which I got a resounding welcome message from everyone I spoke to (read about my adventures in Rabat, Casablanca & Marrakesh). After that I then figured out what time I had left in the European Zone to determine when what dates to look into my visit to Russia. From there I then planned when I could apply for the Visa. As it happened I would be in Ottawa, by the Russian consulate and Visa Services Canada just as the 6 month mark came up so I could apply for the Visa and drop by the office and speak to someone in person rather than just mail the papers in the mail and hope everything needed is included. That was the smart plan as not only did I not notice a small but important term in my flight out of Russia (I was originally going to fly to Belarus and visit there but because of current tensions tourists coming from Russia aren’t allowed to visit.), but also I needed to drop off additional paperwork, including a signed letter informing the Russian consulate as to why I was applying for a visa so much ahead of my visiting dates, apparently “because you allow me to” isn’t a good enough reason.
Once the Visa application was sent in I just had to wait for my passport to come back, I would pick it up at my friend’s house as my last stop in Canada. It was set, I would be flying to London and visiting the UK and Ireland in March, then make my way down to Morocco for May, and then make my way up to Russia in July. The all stops in between, all the adventures you have been reading about up til now, I had a rough idea of where and when I’d be visiting but they were all up in the air and planned on the go while I traveled, and they changed over and over. So all the paperwork was done and I had finally made my way to Russia, in Saint Petersburg, ready to get some first-hand experience of Sambo, and hope I don’t die from it.
The Many Many Sights
I knew there were a few things to check out in Saint Petersburg from doing a quick check online, and so many people telling how great the city was, but I did not expect to be so enthralled with all the old architecture throughout the city. By this point I was quite used to being around buildings that were everyday common apartment buildings or store fronts to the locals but cool looking to me and older than the formation of Canada itself. The difference with Saint Petersburg is the scale of which all these building are built. It’s like every building, no matter it’s function, was built to outdo Versailles. They were massive, several floor buildings covered with all sorts of ornate designs and pillars. Or the Orthodox church built with millions of multicolored tiles and spires and domes. There was a lot to see and take in for this city, here’s a small sample of the photos I took.
Kazan Cathedral is impressive building, that reminded me of the ship from ‘Prometheus’, with a small but busy park and water fountain in front.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood of course reminded me of Tetris, was also very busy and I didnt feel like being in the crowd pushing my through to see inside so I only walked around and admired it from the outside.
Peter & Paul Fortress is a sizable area with all sorts of different buildings and views, like the Peter and Paul churches, prison museum and the harbour dock and fortress wall and look in towards the city.
Historical Military Artillery Museum is across from the fortress and has a huge array of cannons, tanks and other artillery vehicles displayed across it’s lawns.
The Palace Square speaks for itself.
I have more photos of my travels and adventures over on my Flickr account, head over there if you want to see more and maybe show some love by liking or commenting on few of them, thanks!
Alexey and The Saint Petersburg National Sambo Team
When looking into the idea of traveling to Russia I asked the BJJ Globetrotters Facebook page for contacts or experiences traveling there. That’s when I met Khaled, a Russian living in USA who apparently knows everyone in Russia. He set me up with Alexey, who runs AP Gym in Saint Petersburg, and also connected me with the Checkmat gym in Moscow and told me some great places to check out and had other contacts if I wanted to venture deeper into Western Russia. So I got a hold of Alexey and we began talking about me coming and visiting. Alexey was more than happy to have a visitor and was even going to set me up with a place to stay, except there was no certainty and with the language barrier I decided to go with a hostel and make sure all my paperwork was in order for the trip.
I contacted Alexey once I was settled into the hostel and we started working out when to meet up and train together. As I mentioned before he owns and runs a series of gyms around Saint Petersburg and I was looking forward to meeting his team and training with them, but then Alexey changed the plans. Apparently he had been invited out to train at the School of Higher Sportmanship, home of the Saint Petersburg National Sambo Team and decided to bring me along with him. Alexey and I met up across town at a train station and then he drove the rest of the way since the sports building was just outside of the city. I followed him through the halls and series of rooms, where I saw Judo classes beginning and ending, until we made it to the Sambo room, a big long room matted with three wrestling circles and huge portraits of Sambo legends hanging from the wall. There a number of student there ranging from big scary looking athletes that would break me without a second thought to young teenagers who could probably runs circles around me. It was an intimidating class to be a part of, but also an honour to be there.
The class goes through a series of warm ups but mostly it’s at your own pace and once you’re done warming up the class is fully on your own with the head coach, Korshunov Alexander Igorevich (A honoured coach of Russia) helping if you had any questions. For the hour that Alexey and I trained it was just us working no-gi, we would roll for a while and Alexey would give me tips for my game and we would drill a technique or I would take a break and grab some water while I watched the rest of the class train. There were a group of men training Combat-Sambo on one mat, a younger group working their take downs with the coach on another, it was amazing to see. As we were training a huge guy walked in and got ready to go a few rounds with his training partner. Alexey saw him and told me he was Denis “The Russian Bogatyr” Goltsov a MMA fighter and heavyweight champ. I watched him and his partner fight round after round beating on each other, impressed and intimidated by his size and skill. Alexey jokingly asked if I wanted to go a round with him, I think-or hoped-he was joking, but I just settled with getting a picture with this giant instead.
After training we went out for food and Alexey brought me a Chinese buffet, we talked more about Saint Petersburg and training and traveling and all sorts of things. Alexey has a few businesses other than his gym, he was a busy man doing the work of 6 men running all his entrepreneur enterprises, making him taking the the time to show me around and train with me all the more impressive. It was a fun night and I wished we were able to train more but that night was the only time I was able to make it out as I got head cold and was out of training for the rest of this visit. Thanks so much Alexey for everything, the hard fought rolls, bringing me to the Sambo training session, showing me your beautiful home town, it was an honour to meet you and hang out together. And thank you Khaled for connecting us.
After a short visit to Saint Petersburg and seeing all the awesome sights, a 5 day visit that went by way too fast, I was on a train to my other Russian stop: Moscow!
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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