Travelling along Nevsky Prospect, the first thing that strikes you is the size. The road is eight lanes wide, the pavement on either side the equivalent to an extra two lanes each! All the buildings, with no exceptions are grand pieces of art as much as they are buildings. At the end is the imposing Saint Petersburg Leningradsky station.
Once inside, there is a small entry hall behind which is the cavernous waiting room containing both the departure and arrival boards. These are located just above two, relatively, small doors that lead to the lengthy platforms.
What, though, is it like to experience?
Where is everything?
Upon entering through the main entryway, or one of the side entrances, you will step through a metal detector watched over by a guard. For myself, and everyone else that I observed, the detector beeped, but the guard did not react, so I am not sure what purpose they really serve.
To the right of the main entrance there is a small corridor leading to some stairs heading down towards the locker room. If you have trouble finding this area, there are some helpful signs nearby indicating the way.
Up the stairs in in front of the entrance is the main waiting hall; a spacious room that can get quite chilly in the winter, so you will want to keep your coat on. You may even spot a pigeon or two, as I did; I named him Frank to pass the time. In the centre of the hall are rows of chairs that only fill a third of the hall, and do not seat nearly everyone waiting.
Thankfully, along either side of the hall are a selection of shops, cafes and food kiosks to distract you, with chairs and tables at which to sit. Sitting in the cafes also has the added advantage of being a little warmer!
At the end of the hall are the departures and arrivals boards, with two small doors to the platforms. Confusingly the arrivals board is above the door leading to the platforms and the departures above the door leading from the platforms. Nothing is ever simple.
The platforms themselves are easy to navigate, as they are very clearly numbered. Be prepared for a long walk, though, if your carriage is at the far end of the train, as Russian trains tend to be very long. Something that is certainly worth remembering if you are planning on arriving at the station with minutes, or seconds, to spare; something I do not recommend.
How to use Russian Lockers
It may seem strange to offer help to use a locker but, bear with me, as using the lockers presents their own challenge, as the bulk of the instructions, which are haphazardly pasted on the walls, are in Russian. What English there is, is so poorly translated that at best it is confusing, and at worst it is unhelpful. The instructions on the terminal from which you purchase your locker time are no better. There is an option in the top left corner of the screen to see everything in English, and the second of three options is an ‘instruction guide’. Unfortunately, this guide is made up of screenshots of the buying process in Russian, which is hugely unhelpful and seems to defeat the point of having an ‘English’ instruction guide. I was lucky that there was a member of staff working who saw my difficulty and guided me through the process. Here is that process.
Reclaiming your luggage is much easier. You just swipe your key card against the reader on the locker and the locker opens.
To claim your locker, look for the following terminal:
Your locker ticket will look like this:
Unfortunately, the toilets leave a lot to be desired (thankfully, a problem that was not repeated at other stations I visited). They are difficult to find, they cost money (which I realise is common at train stations) and are not particularly clean; though I can only speak of the quality of the gents, I thought it best not to explore the ladies!
If you must go, they are to the left of the main entrance and down a short corridor. The fee at the entrance is 30 roubles. While the urinals were ok, if unclean, the toilets are, if I understood what I saw correctly, best described as shower basins with big holes in the middle meaning that a squatting position is required. Certainly not what I or, I am sure, others are accustomed to; though not necessarily a rarity in Russia. And, although the toilets had a female attendant who continued to clean regardless of the facility being in use, something that was slightly unusual, the cleanliness was something less than what one would hope for.
If you would like a free, more pleasant, experience, there is a shopping mall just behind the station called the Galeria. To get there exit through the main entrance and turn left, then turn left again at the road and you will see it in front of you. It is no more than a minutes’ walk from the station.
The Waiting Room
As mentioned, the waiting room is a very large, and rather chilly, room. It is here, though, that you must be to watch the departures board. I found no monitors or departure boards in any of the surrounding cafes or shops and, nearly, all announcements are in Russian. I heard announcements for one train, the ‘Express’ to Moscow in English, though these were sporadic and, seemingly, an afterthought so are not to be relied upon. You will find more departure boards on the platforms themselves, though in the winter I would not advise standing outside when you have the option of being indoors!
The cafes around the waiting room offer a mixture of local Russian cuisine, including borscht and blini, at reasonable prices. Personally, I visited a ‘Daily Food’ kiosk and bought a, very unadventurous, cheese and ham sandwich with a bottle of water for 150 roubles; though I found out later that the sandwich contained very little of either!
There are several souvenir shops, a florist and a bag shop in the hall, all of which seem to have late opening hours, as they were all open still while I was in the station, after 11pm.
The highlight of the waiting room (which is far more interesting than that phrase makes it sound), is a quite striking, large, brass rail map covering all the main routes and stations served by Russian Railways between Berlin and Novosibirsk. If you know the Cyrillic alphabet, or if you have a copy of the alphabet to hand, you can spend quite some time translating all the destinations, and taking ideas on where you could travel next time.
• Wi-Fi appears to be available, through the SSID ‘open_vokzal’, but once connected there is a connection gateway to pass through for which the instructions are in Russian; though it appeared that there would be a small fee for use. Because of this, I was unable to connect in order to verify how good the Wi-Fi actually is, or if it works at all.
• Compared to many other countries the security presence at the station was very high. There appears to be no need to worry though, as I was not hassled at any point.
• There are some signs in, and around, the station in English, but there does not appear to be any consistency to their availability, and often the translations are confusing. In most instances, though, the signs are relatively easy to understand, particularly if you have visited a train station before, without needing to understand Russian thanks to helpful images, or arrows.
Travelling abroad, on public transport, can be a daunting experience at times, particularly if you do not have a solid grasp of the local language. There is no reason to be concerned, though, when travelling to, from, or via, Saint Petersburg Leningradsky as, despite the language barrier, and the stern looking security, it is, after all, a train station like any other, and you should have no problem at all navigating it.
Have you passed through Leningradsky? What did you think of it? How did it compare to other stations in Russia for you?