Russia: Saint Petersburg

What a city! Once the Imperial city of Peter the Great, this UNESCO listed city of 5 million people reeks of magnificent buildings, riches, long canals, beautiful churches and great little cafes.

We arrived here from Moscow on the very fast train. This comfortable train travelling at a speed of 150 kms/hr took 5 hours. I had booked our tickets several months ahead through the Russian railway website. I figured like other European fast trains, the earlier you book, the better the price. I didn’t want to repeat an experience I had when I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport a few years ago, thinking I could easily buy a spur of the moment fast train ticket to Ypres. It cost me a bomb!

The other more pressing reason for purchasing this rail ticket early was that we needed it for our Russian visas. Because my husband and I were travelling on our own, we had to provide evidence of our entry into, around and exit from Russia as well as hotel details. With visas costing $A135 plus $US25 for an authorisation number, we did not want to risk being rejected.

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Saint Peterburg is known as the ‘Venice of the North’ and ‘Amsterdam of the East’ because of its canal system. In fact, Peter the Great modelled his city in the early 1700s on Amsterdam. In its day, the canals were extensive and carried a lot of water traffic. Today, the canals are fewer; having been filled in after the road levels were raised. Lots of tourist boats ply the canals, giving visitors a wonderful view of neoclassical buildings. There’s about 600 bridges across the canals, made from a variety of materials; stone, iron, wood.

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I am a museum tragic so of course we were in Saint Petersburg to tour the State Hermitage Museum which is in the Winter Palace; once home to the Romanovs, the last dynasty of czars to rule Russia. It rivals the Louvre with 3 million pieces on show and massive it most certainly is. Common talk is that it would take 11 years to examine every single piece. We spent a full day here and had we not been busy on other days, I would have returned for a second day. I booked our tickets online when we arrived in Saint Petersburg. For $A17 and no queue, it really was incredible value. Armed with a map and a whole lot of pre reading, we guided ourselves around dozens and dozens of rooms filled to the brim with priceless wares.

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A myriad of rooms are awash with rich fittings.

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Magnificent doors

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Church inside the Hermitage

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And…my favourite room …the library with its beautiful timber work.

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The next lot of photos are of my favourite pieces – some famous, some not so.

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Catherine the Great’s Peacock Clock dates from 1777. It’s automated and the birds sing.

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Peter Carl Faberge at his best

I took this photo from one of the rooms at the Hermitage. It looks out over Palace Square, Alexander Column and the General Staff Building. I love the triumphal arch, a monument to Russia’s victory in 1812 over the French.

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Peter and Paul Fortress, a citadel, lies across the river. We walked to it, over the bridge which was all decked out for FIFA World Cup. Peter the Great had the fortress built in 1706.

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The beautiful Cathedral inside the fortress is the burial place for Russian Tsars. It also contains the remains of the final Romanov Tsar, Nicholas II, his wife, 3 of their 5 children and household staff. Yes, the much talked about Anastasia is buried here. There’s still some conjecture from the Russian Orthodox Church as to whether the DNA testing carried out on the bodies was accurate.

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At different times, the fortress served as a political prison. Leon Trotsky served time here.

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A 40 minute hydrofoil ride away from Saint Petersburg is Peterhof, Russia’s equivalent to France’s Versailles. Peter the Great commissioned the Summer Palace complex and it is beautiful with extensive gardens and fountains.

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Saint Petersburg has many churches and all come with fascinating histories and rich interiors.

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Trinity Cathedral built in 1828. Room for 3000 people.
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Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood – Tsar Alexander II was assassinated here.
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St Isaac’s Cathedral

We walked and walked around Saint Petersburg. There are so many fantastic sights to see that I needed to be walking to take them all in.

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Admiralty

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Near Nevsky Prospekt – a very lively street

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Beautiful department store

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Russian Museum – lots of paintings by Russian artists inside

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We found some cosy cafes (there are literally hundreds) for coffee or lunch or dinner. At this cafe we were the only foreigners amongst a sea of friendly Russians who were up for a chat and the token Aussie photo session!!!

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Saint Petersburg has now entered its White Night phase where the sun doesn’t set. It’s twilight throughout the night and I like it.

I also liked eating these tasty raspberry and white chocolate cottage cheese treats!

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Soup – Russian style – very tasty

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We stayed at the Gutenberg Hotel, (I used booking.com) in an area that is being developed as a bit of hub for the young and edgy. There’s great little bars and cafes as well as funky art galleries a stone’s throw away.

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Some other notes that might help if you plan to visit.

Saint Petersburg is a windy city so bring a scarf. During our 6 day visit, we had a few days of wind and a little rain. Not enough to keep us indoors though. Women will need a scarf to cover their heads in some churches.

We also found that there’s not a lot of English spoken or indeed written (as in cafe menus). Also, the canal boat tour commentary is in Russian as are lots of notes accompanying key sites.

Cruise ships berth here, often before or after Baltic destinations like Tallinn and Helsinki.

The rouble is king -no other currency will do!

We really enjoyed our time in Russia. Enjoyed it too much, I think because we’re talking about returning and spending more time seeing other places in this vast country!

Next stop; Tallinn Estonia.

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