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mistybleu Saint Petersburg - A travel report by Amanda
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Saint Petersburg,  Russia - flag Russia -  Sankt-Peterburg
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mistybleu's travel reports

Tsars, Palaces and Churches

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Venice of the north; at first I was a little shocked heading to the metro station, as the housing was typical soviet. A lot of tall blocks, kind of faceless buildings. But as I got into the heart of the city things changed.

The Church of Our Saviour Spilled Blood
The Church of Our Saviour Spilled Blood
Saint Petersburg was the vision of Tsar Peter the Great which dates back to 1703 when during the Northern War with Sweden the Russian forces returned access to the Baltic Sea via the Neva River. This win allowed Peter I to secure the site and he started building the Peter and Paul Fortress to defend the area. He then erected a small wooden cabin and that was the birth of Saint Petersburg.

From then, it has blossomed into a wonderful city with spectacular buildings, palaces, gardens and churches, not without its troubles. I was a little fascinated with Peter I, and why they called him 'the great' as his reign didn't seem long - he died at 52. But creating this wonderful city in the midst of war and the role he played in developing the Russian navy has to be admired. I don't know too much about him but he was known to have lived in the UK for a few months to learn about shipbuilding etc, where the then king allowed him more or less free reign in return for trade access.

Most of the buildings he planned may no longer exist, but the ones which do are incredible although they may have been added to like Peterhof and Peter and Paul Fortress.

The residential side of the city was uninspiring, a lot of tall faceless buildings that stretched for an entire block. But when I emerged on to a wonderful platform of the metro, decorated with marble and chandeliers and a statue of Pushkin at the end - it amounted to the best metro system I have ever visited.

I was also interested in author Alexander Pushkin, the grandson of a slave; he was considered by many as the greatest Russian poet of the romantic era. He died young (37), in nothing more romantic then a duel.

Favourite spots:
Gardens and fountains of Peterhof
Gardens and fountains of Peterhof
Peterhof Palace and Gardens are about 18 km from the centre. There are many ways to get there; a) using the hydrofoil across the gulf is the quickest way, the pick up spot is near Admiralteyskaya metro station or b) the cheapest way by taking the metro to Avtovo and then a shuttle bus (on exiting cross over the road and take the no. 424 or 224). They run very frequently and takes around 30 mins depending on the traffic.

The upper gardens are free to enter and are pretty but you really want to go to the lower gardens, some of the lesser palaces and off course the is the Grand Palace. The lower gardens have the most wonderful network of fountains.

The Grand Cascade with the central feature of Samson and the lion was placed there to commemorate the Russian victory over Sweden. The double meaning occurred as the lion is also on the Swedish coat of arms. There is also another grand fountain which depicts Neptune all guilder in gold. Allocate plenty of time here, it's worth it.

What's really great:
The Church of the Spilled Blood
The Church of the Spilled Blood
I really enjoyed Nevsky Prospekt, which is the most busiest of all the streets in city. It's a great place for designer shopping and from there you can see or get to the major tourist attractions in the city. Including the Admiralty, State Hermitage, Stroganovsky Palace (a branch of the Russian museum), the Evangelical Lutheran church of St Peter, Cathedral of the Icon of our Lady of Kazan, Bank Bridge, Mikhaylovsky Palace (Russian Museum) and many others.

One of the other places to visit, along the Griboedova Canal, is The Church of the Spilled Blood which was built as a memorial to tsar Alexander II and commemorates the place where he was assassinated. It has never been used as an actual church, the only type of service that happened here is memorials for fallen heroes. It is just an incredible looking church, built in the Russian revival style back in 1881, a bit of a throw back to that of St Basil's in Moscow but uniquely different.

Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Fortress
Here are ten of my must sees in the city:

1. Nevsky Prospekt - this avenue was the start of the road to Moscow. It is the main shopping road and has many important buildings either on or adjacent to it.

2. The State Hermitage and Winter Palace.

3. St Issac's Church - is the largest cathedral in Russia. Whilst some restoration work is happening the museum still opens at 10.30am.

4. Church of the Spilled Blood - an incredible building which the soviets were going destroy to make room for a subway (I believe).

5. Tsarskoe Selo/Catherine the Great's Palace and Park - damaged in WW11 is still being restored.

6. Peterhof and Gardens.

7. Peter and Paul fortress. Built as a fortress against the Swedes but was used as a prison.

8. Mariiskiy Theatre - the world's most accredited venue for ballet and opera.

9. Russian Museum - provides a fine example of everything Russian.

10. Metro stations - some stations are very opulent decorated in marble and mosaics, with wonderful chandeliers.

Cool sleeping
Cool sleeping
When I first decided to go to Russia accommodation was always of concern, as I'd heard so many stories of only having to stay in five star accommodation and costing hundreds of pounds per night. To be fair it scared me, so instead of heading to Moscow and then taking the overnight train to St Petersburg. I chose to send a night on board a ship.

I can't comment much about accommodation, I did stop in the Four Seasons across the road from St Issac's Church and off course on my next visit I will have to stay there.

The main thing about organising a trip to Russia is sorting the visa as every foreign national will require one. Applications can be done through the local consulate or an agent for a few dollars more. The form feels very invasive even requesting to list every county you have visited in the last ten years. But you really have no choice but to submit.

Saint Petersburg travelogue picture
The city is renowned for its nightlife; in terms of theatre, the ballet or opera are exceptional. I was only there for one night so it was a bit of a toss up, whilst I should have gone with the ballet, I opted for attending a cultural / folk performance. It was really amazing full of colour, style, singing and dancing. They had some solo instrumental peices being played on the russian-guitar the 'balalaika', which really completed the evening.

Most visitors to the city end up at the Mariinsky Theatre, this world renowned venue has been popular for two centuries. A production of Swan Lake is always the desired performance. Although I read that they now screen a 3D version of this classic. The Mariinsky Theatre dates back to 1860, however in 2006 they opened Mariinsky II. This great new 2000 seater concert hall brings a new dimension to this theatre.

The Hermitage and Winter Palace
The Hermitage and Winter Palace
The State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace

This is one of the top ten museums in the world and it is a incredible place to visit. The building dates back to the 1700s when Catherine the great started to amass her collections of great works of art. It cost around 400 roubles to enter and is open Tuesday to Sunday (10.30 to 6pm on most days until 9pm on Wednesdays). Some of the main attractions are the Treasure Gallery’s Gold Rooms showcase golden masterpieces from Eurasia and the Black Sea Littoral in antiquity. Also the grand staircase is worth seeing.

It is advisable to get the entry tickets in advanced as the queues for individual tickets can be quite long and you would want to spend as much time in the museum instead of the queues as possible. I got them online (; I paid a little more for the convinces but it really was worthwhile.

Fresh food
Fresh food
On my list of food to sample:

It goes without saying that a trip to Russia should include caviar and preferably the black kind as opposed to the red caviar. Whilst the red is cheaper and is the roe of salmon one must try the traditional sturgeon.

And what goes well with caviar is blinis. Available from restaurants to cafes these little buttery pancakes.

Derived from the Russian word for water - voda, vodka is the national drink. The best place to pick up a bottle is from a supermarket, and usually if it costs over 200 roubles it should be safe. Well that was what I went by and I'm still alive. Although I really don't drink much.

Other dishes included Pelmeni - kind of like ravioli, schi - cabbage soup and borscht - beet root soup.

Other recommendations:
I thought that as Helsinki was fairly close, well in the same region, that you could incorporate them in a visit to Saint Petersburg. However after looking at some ferry routes I'm not sure, as it is not quite cost effective. From St Petersburg to Helsinki costs around £190 for two people taking a ferry and takes 4 1/2 hours to cross the Gulf of Finland which is part of the Baltic Sea.

If you only have a day in the capital, then I found the market around the South Harbour quite interesting. As well as the buildings of Senate Square including the Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral or Church of St Nicolas - a massive columned facade with a huge dome dominates the square. Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral on the edge of the Katajanokka District is definitely worth a visit.

Published on Monday August 12th, 2013

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Wed, Nov 13 2013 - 08:13 PM rating by bootlegga

Very nice!

Wed, Aug 14 2013 - 06:03 AM rating by rangutan

Just what I need! Thanks.

Tue, Aug 13 2013 - 05:51 PM rating by krisek

Thanks Amanda for a nice report. I was in St Peters (as it is affectionately known as) just over a year ago (July 2012) at the time of white nights. I also found it contrasting. It is obvious that plenty of restoration work remains in the old town, and the drab blocks of flats could do with a facelift. Good one for trying the vodka! :)

Tue, Aug 13 2013 - 08:10 AM rating by jenny2

Another great report.

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