Three perfect weeks in Saint Petersburg
January 1, 1970
My first long-awaited trip to Russia took place in a graceful city of Peter the Great, second-largest Russian city. It is a city of rich history and world-class cultural heritage. I chose the most amazing time for visiting Saint Petersburg, as well as the most crowded by tourists, unfortunately. It is a time of the White Nights: long days, short white nights, series of cultural performances beginning with opera and ballet at Mariinsky Theater, ending with pop concerts at the Palace Square.
My trip to Russia wouldn’t be so long and intensive without an opportunity to stay at my pen friend Lena’s home. I met Lena a few years ago on the Internet. Afterwards, we became good friends. We were looking forward to seeing each other! For people travelling on a budget it’s possible to use different international programs to find where to live for free or for a small amount of money. Another option is to live in a hostel or a hotel. Some of the hostels are really cozy!
Food in St. Petersburg costs approximately the same as in many other Eastern European countries. Although prices in restaurants seemed to me a bit higher, it is still very inexpensive comparing to Western Europe. I was on a budget, so I tried to eat at home. Later, if I had too many things to do in the city, I usually had my dinner and supper in town. I needed a cheap place to have a snack between museums and finally I found it: in the city there are a lot of ‘dining rooms’ with cheap warm food, some of them are very popular and have unique design, for example USSR vintage design. I liked Russian fast food cafe ‘Teremok’, too. Of course, there are also a lot of more expensive and comfortable cafes to eat with friends, wonderful themed cafes, as well as absolutely luxurious restaurants.
How to entertain yourself in Saint Petersburg?
First of all, let’s agree that St. Petersburg is a cultural Russian capital, so you should definitely fill yourself with high Russian culture by visiting world-famous museums, Imperial Palaces, parks and maybe.. a theatre? Every day I was walking along the lively Nevsky Prospekt; this main city avenue crosses pretty streets and canals, so the city is sometimes called the Northern Venice. The streets are full of artists and young musicians, so if the weather is good, the walk brings great pleasure.
Russian Orthodox Churches
Walking along the canals, first of all, I visited a spectacular Church of the Savior on Blood with famous colorful onion domes. It is no less colourful inside – it contains 7500 m² of mosaics. The Church was dedicated to Russian Emperor Alexander II, mortally wounded on the site where the Church was built later. I needed to buy an entry ticket to go inside.
Then I visited St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest one in the city, dedicated to St. Isaac of Dalmatia. The are entry tickets to the Cathedral and to the colonnade to enjoy the best city view.
Kazan Cathedral is also one of the largest in the city, with not typical for Russia exterior. It is dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan holy icon. Free entry.
In the city the are over 200 temples, most of them are Russian Orthodox. I visited only a few ot them, but walking around the city, I saw dozens more churches with free entry. St. Petersburg authorities carefully preserve the temples.
The Greatest Museums
The first in the list was the Hermitage Museum; the queue is always very long during the tourist season, however, it is worth waiting. You can also try to buy tickets in advance online. The Winter Palace definitely impressed me with large decorated rooms, where members of the Imperial Family lived. By the way, the museum has one of the largest art collections in the world – over three millions pieces of art. As a result, I was walking around the museum for about seven hours until the closing.
The State Russian Museum complex includes a few buildings and a pleasant walking park with sculptures and fountains called Summer Garden. I liked The Russian Museum, especially Russian folk culture – art, toys, costumes, painted chests and dishes, architecture fragments, as well as XIX century Russian art, especially paintings of nature.
One more important St. Petersburg historical and cultural place is Peter and Paul fortress, which is located on the Vasilievsky Island. The old citadel is now a very important historical museum complex, which includes the Cathedral – the burial place of Russian tsars, old prison, mint building and some other curious museums. As an engineer, I personally was also very interested in Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.
There are also two must-visit residences in two municipal towns in St. Petersburg, where I went by minibuses which pick people up at some big stations of the city:
One of these towns is Peterhof. The State Museum of Peterhof – the breathtaking palace and park ensemble with gold sculptures and fountains, as well as some secret fountains to frighten and to wet the walking people – it’s all the project of Peter the Great. Peterhof is one of the most unforgettable destinations for tourists, it includes a few palaces and gardens, but I visited just the most important ones.
Another astonishing must-see museum complex is the old residence Tsarskoye Selo in municipal town Pushkin. The most spectacular is the Catherine Palace. The Palace is very popular so get ready for the queue again, if you are coming during the tourist season. I saw its exquisite gold ballroom with lots of mirrors in screen adaptations of ‘the War and Peace’, where the first ball of Natasha Rostova took place. However, even more popular is the Amber Room, decorated in amber, gold and mirrors. Pushkin is also the town where world-famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin attended the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum.
St. Petersburg is a vibrant city with a lot of youth. I accidentally arrived on the day of Russia (12 of June), which was extensively celebrated. I was also fortunate to see some projects of art students around the city center. Now I will present you some more places and events I liked:
- Kunstkamera is one more famous Russian museum established by Peter the Great. On the one hand, it is an amazing Peter’s collection of wild things, which includes curious things and traditions of different nations of the world, but on the other hand… it includes horrific collection of human body abnormities. I tried to watch it all, but I didn’t manage, it was too painful for me, but not for medical students who are popular visitors of this extraordinary museum. Unfortunately (or fortunately), taking photos of the collection is forbidden.
- During the tourist season St. Petersburg invites everybody to the annual Scarlet Sails Event – a tribute to Alexander Grin’s tale. It is held on the weekend with the shortest night on the Neva River. The main idea of the Event is to congratulate graduates on finishing school. We arrived a few hours earlier, while the city wasn’t overcrowded yet, we stayed at the bridge near the Winter Palace, where as we were convinced the fireworks will be seen very well from here. We were right, the fireworks show was fascinating! But the ship was quite far from us, it sailed very close to graduates who were on the Palace Embankment and who had invitations to the show. The water performance is not the only show that evening, there is also a musical concert on the Palace Square.
- One of my last days in Russia, we tried out a boat tour on canals and the Neva River for the perfect warm evening with my friend. There are a lot of routes and start locations, not difficult to find. Night-time tours are available. At night you can see drawbridges’ opening, which is fascinating.
- Rock karaoke bar. As I was more concentrated with cultural program, I visited a bar with my new Russian friends only once. I’m usually shy, but that time I decided to try to sing on the scene with one of my new friends. Russians are very entertaining, I am very thankful they showed me so much in the city.
I dreamed of visiting Russia because I have Russian grandfather and my Russian speaking skills are very good. My personal impression about Saint Petersburg is very positive; the city is great, graceful and magnificent. You always need to check the opening hours of a museum to find out if the museum is open the day you appointed. I discovered that the Russians are very sincere, open, generous, greathearted and brainy. One day, I was walking very late in the center and missed the last metro, then a young girl led me to the house on foot. She helped me without any purpose or reason. It was an amazing night adventure for me and for her too, I suppose. I was very happy with those people. Well, finally, Russian beauties are charming, that’s absolutely right!