48 Unforgettable Hours in St. Petersburg, Russia
Our visit to this incredible city will forever be a highlight in my travels, it truly was an unforgettable 48 hours.
We arrived into St. Petersburg by cruise ship and therefore did not have to worry about a visa but we did have to purchase some cruise excursion tours in order to see the sights. We would not of been able to tour the city on our own without the proper paperwork completed before leaving home. Our visit was a quick one but one that I was so happy to have taken because even though it was a quick glimpse and a small taste, of this beautiful city, it was one worth taking.
On our tours we had local guides to give us a brief but thorough rundown at each stop. They provided us with local trivia and personal touches that made the experience such a thrill.
Leaving the cruise terminal we passed an area locally referred as the “Sleeping District”. This area consisted of Soviet style flats, compact, cramped and grey are a few words to best describe their appeal.
St. Petersburg is a beautiful city rich in culture, history and glorious architecture and it is also home to just under 5.5 million people. The city also has a reputation of being the most northerly city in the world.
Due to St. Petersburg’s latitude there is a time period, from June to early parts of July, that the city is indistinguishable between day and night, giving it a “White Nights” nickname. On a side note, if you are an older movie fan, like I am, you might of heard of the 1985 movie, “White Nights”. The movie had some big names of the day, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Geraldine Page, Isabella Rossellini and Helen Mirren. There were some great dance scenes by both Baryshnikov and Hines.
St. Petersburg is known as the “Venice of the North”or “Venice of Russia” because of the many canals throughout the city. It is a city surrounded by water and a mix of rivers, canals and 342 bridges.
The city originated in 1703 with Peter the Great as its founder. Peter was influenced by Venice, Amsterdam and the architecture of France and this is widely evident throughout the city.
Throughout the years and depending on the politics of the day the city name would change accordingly, going from St. Petersburg to Petrograd then Leningrad and back to St. Petersburg. The city is also known as “The City on 101 Islands”, however it is now agreed upon that the city if made up of anywhere from 33-42 different islands. It is also called “The Palmyra of the North”, being compared to Palmyra an oasis in the Syrian desert. “Culture capital of Russia” is also a nickname given because of the 200 universities within the city, 100 being state run plus 100 privately run. Lastly it is also known as “The Northern Capitol of Russia”. During St. Petersburg’s early beginnings Peter the Great moved the capital of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg and it remained that way until 1918 when Moscow once again became the official capital of Russia.
The River Neve is the fourth largest river in Europe and runs through St. Petersburg. One of our stops was alongside the river to view the Winter Palace which was directly across the bridge. The famous Winter Palace was once home to Czar Nicholas II (Anastasia’s father) and is now a part of the Hermitage Museum. You can look at the other buildings that make up the Hermitage at hermitagemuseum.org. The palace is a magnificent display of architecture and is full of grandeur. The palace dates back to 1754 when it was built as an order from Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. It took over eight years to build and sadly the Empress died one year before its completion.
The palace was used as the main residence for the Russian royal family for 155 years but in 1917 it was ceased during the Revolution and later turned into a museum. If you won’t be going to St Petersburg anytime in the near future, be sure to check out hermitagemuseum.org and enjoy walking through the palace by means of the virtual tour.
The palace is full of intricate detail, white Carrara marble, precious woods, semi-precious stones, silver chandeliers and countless works of art.
From the Winter Palace we stopped at The Spilled Blood Church. This was the original site of Alexander II’s death in 1881. It was his son, Alexander the III that decided to honour his father by dedicating the church in his name. The original name was the Church of the Resurrection of Christ.
This was once a Russian Orthodox church and now serves as a museum. Noted as one of St. Petersburg’s famous attractions it is also a magnificent display of architecture. The interior of the church is covered in elaborate mosaics with the main figures and scenes all being represented by biblical figures.
The design and architecture of the church is very notably different from most of the other buildings in the city. It is visibly very medieval looking and resembles the look of the cathedrals in Moscow.
While we were visiting there were hundreds of people taking pictures and many tour buses coming and going. If you are not on a cruise excursion, where your entry tickets would be included, it is advisable to buy them in advance online. The best place to buy them is through trip advisor. The official church website is predominately Russian and is not secure and therefore would not be my first choice for purchases.
The church unfortunately did not always look this elaborate and ornate. It was looted in 1923, then closed in 1932 and was badly damaged during WWII. It was supposed to be torn down shortly after WWII however it was turned into a warehouse for an opera company. It wasn’t until 1997, after many years of extensive restoration, that it reopened to the public.
The Peter and Paul Fortress was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and is St. Petersburg’s oldest monument. This building was a representation of Czar Peter I’s first important victory, thus this site is recognized as the birthplace of the city. The Fortress however had a dark past as it was known as the Russian Empire’s most feared prison. It wasn’t until 1918 that it closed as a prison and reopened as a museum. Within the walls of the Fortress are also the Old Guard House, the Commandant’s House (his personal residence during his years of service), and the Mint where Russian money, coins and medals were produced and is one of largest in the world. The Cathedral is also within the walls of the Fortress and has a spire which makes it the tallest building in the downtown area. On the top of the spire is an angel which is one of the main symbols of St. Petersburg.
Inside the Cathedral are the remains of all the Russian monarchs including the past ruler Nicolas II and his family. Their remains were discovered and identified in the 1990’s and in 1998 the remains of the Romanov family were laid to rest inside the Cathedral. Lineups are most certain at the Cathedral and pre-purchasing tickets are also highly recommended.
Nevsky Prospect or Nevsky Avenue is the main shopping area in the city. The name Nevsky Prospekt, literally means Nevsky Avenue or street.
There are many shops, cafes and restaurants and street vendors to enjoy. We were allowed to leave our bus group for only a very short time to do some exploring however it was raining so hard that unfortunately we could not venture too far. We did however walk up the street, grab a few souvenirs and make it back to the bus in time for our departure back to the ship. The shops take visa but the local vendors only take Rubles so keep that in mind if planning to do some shopping. NOTE: Remember to carry your passport/Seapass card, if you are travelling by ship, and your tour ticket at all times. You may and probably will be asked for identification.
For our second day in St. Petersburg we had purchased an excursion to attend a Russian Folklore Show and dance. We were transported by our tour bus to the former Officer’s Hall. The building is a beautiful teal blue with an impressive stone staircase leading to the auditorium.
The show was everything I could of expected and more. Decorative and colourful Russian costumes, complete with the Russian Cossack boots and dancers. Every song was sung in Russian and I didn’t understand a thing but it didn’t matter, because the voices of the singers were mesmerizing. The dances, the colours and the music were all that mattered. It was a magnificent authentic display of Russian dance and music and I am so glad I was able to be apart of it.
It was an unforgettable evening and our visit to St. Petersburg was drawing to a close.
On our journey back to the ship we listened to our local guide who shared an interesting viewpoint of her life in Russia. She told us of how she had lived through the Soviet era and how her and her husband had to wait over ten years to get a car.
She went on to explain how back then there were no traffic jams (we happened to be stuck in a traffic jam at that point in the story). There were no TV shows but the State provided everyone with housing, everyone had jobs, free medicare and there was no unemployment. Nowadays, she explained, the opposite is a fact of life. Listening to her I felt that she might be missing the old way of life just a bit.
It was an interesting viewpoint to leave us with as we departed Russia and one that had me wondering about her life. This is one of the wonders of travel, the opportunity to meet different people, share thoughts and feelings and learn from one another. We may not all agree but we learn to respect and appreciate people no matter the differences. Perhaps and in the end we learn to appreciate our own home and life a bit more as well.
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