Sunday, March 15, 2015

Two Days in St. Petersburg, Russia

I've been trying to write this post for six months.  I've edited, deleted and sighed, struggling to do justice to the experience.  Finally, I deleted HALF of what I had and now I'm ready to share....
The things I didn't share are big ones too.... The Hermitage, Peter & Paul Fortress, Rasputin's death place, St Issac's Cathedral.

St. Petersburg is a “Western” city planned and opened by Peter the Great to give Russia a gateway to the Western World. It’s streets are planned and large organized avenues with beautiful buildings with canals and bridges joining the once marshy areas drained for this great city. A beautiful spectacle to withhold.

Two days seemed like enough time to see the city, right?

Wow, the answer is NO. We did SO MUCH but still were left with a feeling that we didn’t get enough time to do all the things we wanted.

You need a visa to enter Russia, unless you are part of a organized tour from a cruise ship, then you are allowed ashore (after a serious inspection of your passport, your paperwork and your face) to go about your business.  We booked a small tour of 4 total, led by a guide, and with our own mini bus.  It’s expensive, I won’t lie, but it’s also expensive to do the tour through the cruise line and being part of a bus of over 30 of your nearest and dearest cruise goers. Ick. No thank you.  We elected for a private small tour (Julia’s Dancing Bear Tours) at the same price.  We did the “active” tour with a couple from Australia who were tons of fun.  We were all exhausted by the end of the day; so many sights and the history… all those names of all the Tsars and who married who…. There are enough Peters, Catherines and everyone else to make your head spin.  Rule #1 to remembering… Peter the Great and Catherine the Great were NOT married.  In fact, Catherine the Great married Peter the Great’s grandson, but she wasn’t even Russian (she was German), whoever, no one can argue with the fact that she was pretty darn great. Wait until you see her summer house...

St. Petersburg Metro

While riding a Russian Metro might not have been on my “bucket list” it was beyond cool.  

St Petersburg is very marshy, and they needed to dig their Metro much deeper than most subway systems.The escalators take you down about 86 meters (258 feet) to the platforms that have been in place since 1955. That escalator will give you vertigo!  So fun.

However, it is so old and stately feeling, check out the photo on the left.  Wow.  I didn't take this image, but I was in this station, the oldest line with the oldest classic metro cars.  We only went one stop to the next station. Each line and station has a different theme and feeling.  I'd have loved to have more time to explore.

Catherine Palace in Pushkin- Rocco Summer Palace

Inside the ballroom, all gold and mirrors.  So beautiful.

A cute angel statue.

A reflecting pond in the gardens.  Our guide mentioned that it is very rare to see the reflection as it's so often overcast or windy, wrecking the ability to reflect.  Our two days in Russia were gloriously sunny.

Another shot of the chapel onion domes from the gardens. In this photo you can see some the blue facade of the building is actually a painted screen (left side) while they do renovations to the building and redo some of the gold leaf on the rocco details.

Peterhof Castle and gardens (Russian Versailles)

144 fountains all fed from natural pools. WOW, that is all.
Just wow. 
A beautiful sunny day just added to the enjoyment of the  beautiful gardens surrounding Peterhof Castle. Called the Russian Versailles, you can see why… miles of  paths, with fountains, flowers and whimsical sculptures and fountains at every turn.

They were setting up for some concert in the gardens that night, you can see some of the set up in the corners.  What an entirely spectacular spot to see a concert!

(Left) A canal connects the palace to the Baltic Sea to make it easier for Peter the Great to get here easily from St Petersburg across the bay.  So, so beautiful.

The park went on and on, we have over 100 pictures from that day... however, I just wanted to share a couple.  Fountains, ponds, canals, paths, whimsy, flowers, beautiful "cottages.  Every inch was fun.

Hydrofoil boat trip back to St. Petersburg
We walked through the Peterhof gardens to the very end of the pier to reach the boats that jet back to St Petersburg.  A quick 30 minute journey from the countryside back to the city, but what a great way to re-enter the city this time, so different from before to see all the grand buildings from the water perspective (photo above). We had a glimpse of some of the landmarks we would see the following day from the water, which just added to our excitement for the following. After a good nights sleep that is… we slept like dead people, we were so tired. 

Church of the Spilled Blood

Originally built to honor a assassinated emperor, this church was completed in 1907 shortly before the Russian Revolution.  During that time, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness, our guide told us that as many as 900 dead where stored there.  After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes, such a beautiful place and amazing history.

I wish the photos could do this place justice…. The inside is nothing but brilliant colored and gold mosaics of biblical scenes from the old and the new testament.  Utterly fantastic.   
Everything you see in the picture below is mosaic.  Every bit of it.

No flashes were allowed and our fancy camera couldn’t keep up with the challenge of capturing that clearly. So, here’s what you get.  It was a very amazing experience. I loved this church.

Lunch at a Perogi Place

We were starving by the time we finally were able to stop for a quick lunch. I don’t remember the name of this place, but it was some sort of charming, small local chain.  It smelled fantastic when we entered and immediately joined a long queue. A beautiful assortment was in the case, which we could hardly see from where we stood in line. It brought back thoughts of the Communist era rationing queues… only I imagine this food was much, much better.   

You could see into the kitchen, as the hot pastries were handed through the window.  Lots of ladies standing around a huge island, creating beautiful works of art of pastry dough. 

We had a chicken and spinach perogi, a beef and onion perogi, and a fantastic dessert “cow berry” perogi.  I believe that cow berry is another name for lingonberries as that’s exactly what this tasted like.   

I'd like to go back some day, and do a little more leisurely sight seeing...

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