St Petersburg Russia
St Petersburg is one of the most sophisticated and beautiful cities on the planet.
I don’t have a ‘bucket list’ mostly because I want to see everywhere and also because I’ve always thought it a bit of a silly term.
BUT there are places I would like to see more than others (say Sydney harbour over anywhere west of Strathfield)
I have been fascinated by St Petersburg since I studied a small amount of Russian history with Miss Digman way back in High School when I was about 15. She made it fascinating by marching on the desks, playing revolutionary type music and showing us pictures of grand palaces and buildings all while recounting stories of Tsars, evil monks and the plight of the serfs.
So needless to say I had high expectations which worried me slightly as the last place I had high expectations of (Istanbul) was a disappointment.
We arrived in St Petersburg at 7am on a very early flight from Yekaterinburg, it’s not always the best idea to arrive in a large city with full packs right on peak hour with a plan to catch public transport …but there we were loaded down on the commuter bus from the airport heading to a vague metro stop. Luckily the people on the bus told us which bus stop to get off at, I reckon they just wanted us off the bus so we’d stop crashing into them with our packs but nevertheless we found and battled a packed metro before finally arriving at our Airbnb tired, hot and cranky.
Our apartment was one of the best, if not the best Airbnb we’ve stayed in. In an upmarket area of old St Petersburg, in a beautiful historic building it is owned by artists and stunningly decorated plus it was in easy walking distance to everything. I could have stayed forever.
On our first full day in St Petersburg we found the famous Church of the Spilled Blood, it’s the one you see in many photos of St Petersburg. it’s real name is the Church of the Resurrection of Christ, but it gets called the Church of the Spilled Blood as it is where an assassination attempt was made on Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The church took 24 years to build and has over 7000 sq metres of mosaic inside and out. During Soviet times is fell into ruin and has recently been painstakingly restored.
When we were there the main dome had scaffold all over it but it was pretty jolly impressive. This was also the first place since we had been in Russia that we saw western tourists ….bus loads and bus loads of them.
We also ventured across the river to the St Peter and Paul Fortress the original citadel of St Petersburg built in 1703 by Peter the Great. The Bolshevik government used it as a prison and execution site in the 1920’s. Today’s it is a fairly interesting historical site heaving with tourists with a few river beaches that the locals sunbath on.
We spent two days exploring the vast Hermitage, the world’s second biggest museum. It is spread over a number of buildings with the palace square, one of the worlds great squares in the centre. We liked the General Staff quarters the best, we preferred the exhibits there plus there were less people than in the main Hermitage and it had a very good cafe. The main Hermitage is in the old winter palace and while the art is good the building is absolutely amazing, i spend most of the time gazing at the ceiling as they were works of art in their own right.
The Hermitage was busy but at no point did we feel it was overcrowded and was nothing like the horrid experience I had at Versailles back in May.
TIP: Buy a 2 day ticket online at the official Hermitage site not only does it give you access to a number of museums and sites it lets you skip the queue and go in the side entrance.
The rest of the time we had in St Petersburg we spent simply wandering the streets and parks being in awe at the amazing buildings in every street. Between 1741 and 1825 Empress Elizabeth, Catherine the Great and Alexander I, bought in leading architects and builders from Italy, France and beyond to build palaces, grand houses, government buildings and churches. The result is a mix of Italian Renaissance and Parisian with its own slant.
We were in St Petersburg during white nights, summer solstice, where it never really gets dark. Official sunset was around 11pm and sunrise at 03.20AM although it never really got dark during the hours in between. It is very strange to wake up at 4am in the morning to full daylight and the sun beaming in the window.
All in all we loved St Petersburg, we stayed in a beautiful apartment, ate great food and generally had a good time. To me it is more sophisticated than Paris, we never ever felt unsafe and the people were all incredibly friendly and helpful. It has quickly become one of my favourite places on earth.
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