My friend and I geared up for another 12 hour tour day in St. Petersburg. Between you and I, my head was still swimming from so much history the three days prior. It was really an overload visiting such historically rich cities as Berlin, Tallinn, and 2 days of St. Petersburg, Russia, back-to-back. Our guide picked us up, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, still smelling of body odor. Needless to say we rode with the windows down.
St. Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia; home to six million people.
It became a city under the Romanov Rule and served as the capital of Russia from 1712-1918, until it was moved to Moscow. Inspired by the European city of Amsterdam, St. Petersburg is a melting pot of old Russian traditions and chic European styles. St. Petersburg is one of the world’s most beautiful cities and houses some of the top art museums. It offers an overdose of history, expensive castles, exquisite art, stunning cathedrals, and modern shopping & clubs.
Much to our surprise, our first stop was the St. Petersburg’s underground metro, home to some of the most elegant subway stations in the world. The metro was designed to be “palaces to the people” and the expensive building materials are not only lovely to look at, but were in perfectly mint condition; a far cry from all public transportation I have seen in the states. Its walls are lined with artwork and gold mosaics, and statues are hidden amid the marble columns. We took a short subway ride from the Pushkinskaya station, located 186 feet deep into the earth, to the Zvenigorodskaya station. It costs 25 rubles to ride the metro and three million passengers use the metro daily.
The Peter and Paul Fortress
Next we stopped at the Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg’s birthplace and its oldest building. After entering Peter’s Gate, one will see the main attraction, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. This Cathedral houses the sarcophagi of many famous Romanov Rulers, starting with Peter the Great and including Nicholas II and his entire family. It has a pulpit which is said to have been used only once, to excommunicate Leo Tolstoy from the Russian Orthodox Church for denouncing the institution. There are other buildings within the fortress, including a museum and the state mint. Many visitors were sunbathing, picnicking, and enjoying the water, too. I found this complex extremely interesting and loaded with great photo opportunities.
Downtown St. Petersburg
Driving into downtown, we got our first sight of the Anichkov Bridge. Made of pink granite with 3 arched spans, the bridge is famous for the bronze Horse Tamer statues adorning its 4 corners. The bridge crosses the Fontanka River and is located next to the busiest part of town, Nevsky Prospekt. The nearby Neva River offers spectacular views of the palaces lining its banks, and the Arts Square, right in the middle of downtown. The square is a plethora of performing arts theaters, museums, and concert halls. Saint Michael’s Castle’s empire stylings, on the Moika River, was one of our favorites.
My Bucket List Destination: The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, or properly known as Cathedral of Resurrection of Christ, is the site where Czar Nicholas II was assassinated in 1881 by the “People’s Will” terrorists group. Nicholas III saw its completion in 1907 and the church was dedicated to his father on the site of his “spilled blood”. This has been on my bucket list for ages and it was a dream come true for me to witness it. The photo will definitely make the Christmas card!
The grand Cathedral is in the middle of a congested downtown area, which reminded me of Trevi Fountain in Rome. It is grand in size, history, and its multiple colored onion domes. The outside is embellished with 20 granite plaques displaying historic events. Inside, no surface is left unadorned as it is full of marble, Russian minerals, biblical scenes, and 7500 meters of eye popping mosaics. The flamboyant church was damaged by the Russian Revolution and closed its doors in the 1930’s. After 27 years of restoration, 1997 brought forth the official reopening of the Church on Spilled Blood.
Relaxing and Unwinding, Plus Refueling
After hours of touring and Russian trivia and historic facts, we opted for a break rather than go to yet another museum. Our guide’s suggestion was for us to go on a touristy type boat ride. The times did not coincide for the English guided boat tour, so we went on the Russian spoken tour and just enjoyed the relaxation, scenery, and the 15 bridges on the Moika River. We dined across the street from Church on Spilled Blood at Cafe Saint Petersburg; the menu consisted of Chicken Kiev, basmati rice, and a tart cranberry sauce. The restaurants windows faced the canal and offered beautiful views of the Cathedral.
Our final stop of the day, the big one, was to the world-renowned State Hermitage Museum. Opened in 1852, and afforded by Catherine the Great, The Hermitage has over 3,000,000 exhibits, hundreds of rooms, and are all located on the banks of the Neva River. Currently the State Museum is housed there and it contains more Russian historic artifacts than anywhere in the world. The Hermitage consists of 6 museums, 5 of which are available to the public: Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, Hermitage Theatre, Small Hermitage, and Winter Palace. The opulent green & white Winter Palace was home to Russian Czars from 1732- 1917 and Catherine the Great was the first ruler of Russia to live at Winter Palace.
One of the Best-Known Premier Art Museums in the World
The Hermitage’s offerings range from rare paintings, jewels, coins, and sculptures. The museum captures a richness that at its time could never have been imagined. The Hermitage earns notoriety in its masterpieces by the greats such as Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, El Greco, Rembrandt, and da Vinci. My favorite was the first floor Old Hermitage Italian Renaissance galleries and the Three Graces, by Canova. I found several things here similar to The Vatican museum, but thought The Hermitage to be much more opulent and interesting. Madonna and Child is one of the most visited sites here.
Concluding our Epic Day in St. Petersburg
We drove by St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Russia, with its pure gold dome. We were exhausted by this point so we opted to skip exploring the inside of that site. Our guide did a spectacular job of introducing us to Russian culture and sharing its beauty with us. I would recommend St. Petersburg to anyone that loves art, architecture, history, or big cities. Until we meet again, Pah-Kah, Russia for goodbye.
History: A short 9 months after Nicholas II succumbed to death after complications of his attempted assassination, his wife and 5 daughters were all executed by the Bolsheviks. In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized the entire family, calling them “passion bearers”, a category describing believers who endured suffering and death from political enemies. They are entombed at the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Tip: Dress lightly when touring The Hermitage. It is extremely crowded and the air is stagnant. Winter and spring times are less crowded.
FYI: In 1989, the city of St. Petersburg was added to the UNESCO list of heritage sites.
FYI: White nights in Russia refer to the time between the end of May and early July when it does not get dark outside. Instead, twilight lasts all evening.
My St. Petersburg Photo Gallery:
Check out our post about day 2 in Russia- Pushkin & Peterhof.