After a short, pleasant day in Tallinn, Estonia, my family and I finally reached the famous Saint Petersburg, the second-largest city in Russia. We would be spending two days there, visiting plenty of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (believe me, there were a lot!) while also learning about Russian culture and history.
We got special VISAs just to enter the country; I’ve heard that it was difficult otherwise to enter the country as a solo traveler, and so it was a good thing that our tour organized everything for us. The next couple of days were busy visiting cathedral after cathedral, palace after palace, and just taking in all of what Saint Petersburg had to offer.
First things first, we visited the Summer Palace, aka Peterhof Palace, which is a huge spread of palaces and gardens located just a bit outside of the city center. It’s definitely one of the most-visited places in Saint Petersburg, and has been called the “Russian Versailles” for a good reason! Heavily gilded from the statues to the fountains to the palace interior, the Peterhof Palace is absolutely stunning with its opulence. Originally, the palace was built for Peter the Great, the tsar of Russia during the late 17th century. However, he never lived there and instead it became the home of his daughter, Elisabeth and later Catherine the Great, the leader of Russia in the mid-to-late 18th century.
We also took a stroll around the Palace Gardens, gorgeous and well-kept. Near midday, we saw a water show that featured fountains and the palace’s canal which flowed out to the Gulf of Finland. I would say that, overall, Peterhof Palace’s beauty definitely rivals that of Versailles’ near Paris, France; I visited the latter two years later, and I would say that both are the best of the best palaces in all of Europe- no other ones can compare!
We headed out afterwards back to the city center to visit Yusupov Palace (aka Moika Palace), respectfully named after Felix Yusupov, a general who had killed the infamous Rasputin (an influential figure to Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia) inside the palace. While not as decked out in gold as Peterhof’s, the Yusupov Palace still boasted pretty interiors, including the ballroom, a small opera house, and a music room where we heard a five-men choir ensemble give a performance that day. We bought a couple of egg-shaped porcelains at the souvenir shop, as they are considered iconic in Russia.
It was almost 14h00 when we finally had our lunch; we were served a four-course “traditional Russian meal,” which consisted of an appetizer of thinly-sliced pork, a “seven-vegetable” soup, chicken as the main course, and a Linzer bar-esque dessert with sour berries. I had myself some champagne (which tasted horrible; even to this day I don’t really like it!) and avoided the vodka: one whiff of it and I was like, “no thanks.” Of course, I was younger back then and didn’t drink alcohol, but still…vodka today isn’t my alcoholic drink of choice.
Our last stop for our first day in Saint Petersburg was at St. Isaac’s Cathedral; it had a gold dome and had a huge gallery of portraits, busts, and beautifully-painted frescos, similar to those in the Sistine Chapel in Italy. Quite lovely, I would have to say.
We ended our first day in Saint Petersburg at St. Isaac’s and headed back to the ship in the late afternoon to rest. I would say that the first day was not too stressful, since we only visited three *big* places; the following day would be more packed with activities, so we had to prepare ourselves for that!
Second day rolled around, and we started off the visit with a one-hour boat cruise down the Neva River, served with champagne (which of course, I didn’t drink) 😛 and offered photo opportunities of the palaces, cathedrals, and museums that we would be visiting later in the day. Afterwards, we visited the Hermitage Museum, which houses the Romanov’s (a royal Russian dynasty) art collection of some of Europe’s finest painters (e.g. Rembrandt, Gauguin).
In actuality, the museum is not a single building, but six, all of which are historic buildings in their own right; I believe we only visited the museum in the Winter Palace, which used to be the Russian monarch’s residence back in the day. We spent 2 hours touring the palace, trying to take in all of the hundreds of thousands of items on display (in total, there are over 3 million historic pieces in the museum- that’s crazy!).
Afterwards, we headed to visit the Church on Spilled Blood, the most iconic sight in the city of Saint Petersburg (and a great, albeit rather gross way of representing the Lord’s crucifixion…). Greatly influenced by Turkish architecture, the church’s colorful onion-shaped domes reflect that. There wasn’t much to see inside, though, just some mosaic art and paintings. But the beauty of it from the outside definitely is a sight worth to see.
We had lunch afterwards at a cafe, where there was more vodka and champagne (which I didn’t take) and we were treated to a small Cossack song-and-dance performance. After lunch, we visited two more places for the day: the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Bazaar, a large shopping area that sells traditional Russian souvenirs such as the matryoshka (nesting) dolls. The Peter and Paul Fortress contains the museum of Saint Petersburg history, as well as is where the Romanov family is buried. At the Bazaar, I bought the nesting dolls as a souvenir for myself, and was pleased to find that the one I got contained not nine, but ten little dolls inside- so cute!
We ended our second (and final) day in Saint Petersburg at the Bazaar, and boarded the ship in the late afternoon. Our time spent in the famous Russian city was done, and it was time to move on to the next destination on our vacation.
I admit, we covered a lot of Saint Petersburg in a matter of two days, but I’m sure that there’s more to do if given, say, a week in the city. If I were ever to return, I would, as well as make a trip over to Moscow, which I’ve heard just-as-extraordinary things about. We’ll have to see!
Stay tuned for the next post of my travels! Next up: Helsinki, Finland!
— The Finicky Cynic
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