Even better than the real thing ...

The challenge seems like an impossible one. Lev needs to find a dozen eggs, which ordinarily wouldn't be difficult, but in war-torn Leningrad it's like finding a dozen mermaids. Still, Lev's life depends on those dozen eggs, and you know he's going to try.

So he takes the plunge, heads out into the cold, into the "city of thieves", and begins his search for the impossible. What follows has so far been the adventure of a lifetime, a rollicking tale of daring, misfortune and occasional good luck. You never want it to end. You can't put the book down.

Trouble is, right now I should be putting the book down. I should be forgetting about Lev and his adventure and going to create my own rollicking tale of daring, misfortune and occasional good luck. I don't need to find a dozen eggs, but I do need to get out and actually do something rather than just sit around in a hotel room all day reading.

But this is getting exciting.

Lev is a character in a book, City of Thieves, by David Benioff, the American author who is now more famous for co-writing the Game of Thrones TV series. His novel is set in Leningrad, the city that would revert back to being St Petersburg and eventually, years later, host me on a holiday.

I've been here 24 hours now, having checked in to a little hotel just off Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main thoroughfare, and have quickly settled in after the long flight. Of course, I unfortunately settled in with the book I've still got pressed to my face, so I've seen very little of the place I'm supposed to be here to visit. I've just read about it.

This is a problem.

The book was given to me with the best of intentions by a work colleague who, upon finding out I was going to St Petersburg, raced home that night and grabbed a copy of one of his favourite novels. "You've got to read this," he said. "It'll give you a good idea of what St Petersburg used to be like."

And it does. It really does. Trouble is, it's giving me such an exciting and vivid idea of what St Petersburg used to be like that I haven't been able to summon the motivation to go out and find what it's like now.

I've always loved reading books set in the countries or cities that I'm visiting at the time. It's a nice way of getting someone else's opinion on the place, or learning a little bit more about it, or even just finding familiar names of neighbourhoods you've just passed through.

I was reading Peter Moore's Swahili for the Broken-Hearted while I spent three months roaming around eastern Africa. Where Moore was, I often was, or was going, or had already been, so I could relate. I saw the same things he saw, met the same sort of people he met.

I read The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara's famous memoir of his life-changing bike journey, while travelling through South America. Now that's a good way to embolden yourself, to encourage yourself to take a few more chances. I'd think to myself: "What would Che do?"

So being lent a book set in St Petersburg seemed perfect, a good way of getting an understanding of the city I was visiting. I might even see some of the locations from the book, or at least start to get my head around the enigma that is Russia.

But of course I haven't seen any of the locations from the book because I haven't been able to put the book down. Twelve eggs! That's all Lev needs. But the people he meets, the twists and turns his fortune takes ...

Outside it looks beautiful, with autumn leaves drifting through the air, eventually sticking to the wet pavement. That's a brand-new country out there, beyond my window, and it's ripe for exploration.

I've never been to Russia before but I've always wanted to visit, always been fascinated by a country I know so little about.

If I peer over the top of the book and out over my little balcony I can see a stand in the middle of the street below that looks like it sells pancakes, or crepes of some kind. There's a queue of people out there, each eventually walking off with a piping-hot treat of some sort in their hands.

I think that's a bar on the corner, or a restaurant. And if I crane my neck far enough near the window I can see all the way to Nevsky Prospekt, the bustling street that Lev will no doubt walk down in his quest to find a dozen eggs.

I definitely plan to see it for myself, too. Just ... maybe at the end of this chapter.