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Saint Petersburg, one of our favourite cities

When we were booking our trip to Russia, originally we were to be in Saint Petersburg for 4 nights, as one day would be to see a World Cup match. After meeting a Russian who thought we were nuts to only stay 4 nights we added another 3 nights after our Moscow stay, and happy we did so and there was still more to see and do.

Mar's last post was on all matches, so for this post it’s the touring part of our stay in Saint Petersburg.

There are plenty of museums to keep one occupied for a month. We decided on the must see, the would be nice to see, and the, I guess we will come back to see.

We arrived in Saint Petersburg early afternoon, and after checking into our hotel, which was quite conveniently located, we strolled around the city to get a sense of it. Well, first impressions were that they took all the nice cities in Europe and mashed it into Saint Petersburg. There are canals which reminded us of Amsterdam, or Venice, architecture of Greece and France, and museums of London.

It’s a very easy walkable city. The boulevards and sidewalks are wide, and the buildings are no higher than 4 stories. Apparently, when this city was built, it was built in an area which was a swamp, the Tsar built his palace, and stated that no other buildings can be higher than this palace.

Tourists everywhere as this is the height of the tourist season with the White Nights, along with those of us who came to watch World Cup.

First things first, laundry day. After our initial 2 hour walk, we found a laundry/bar not far from our hotel, so we gathered all our stuff, and had a beer while waiting for our clothes to be done. It is so much cheaper and easier than China. Plus internet works much quicker here, albeit, you have to constantly add your phone number so someone I’m sure is tracking activity.

This time of year everyone is out as the sun never really sets, hence the White Nights. I believe our guide says it’s about 80 days, so all Russians living in Saint Petersburg take advantage of this time of year. Lots of celebrations, street art everywhere, and of course musicians playing at every corner hoping to get some spare change.

While we were watching a pair of musicians, oddly enough, a guy goes to Mark, and says, Chicago right? Mark looks, and says yea, and cannot place the guy. Walks over to me, and we figured it out, he had Cubs season tickets, and sat in the row in front of us. He has since moved to another section of the park, but what are the odds of seeing someone you know in Russia.

When you're recognized in the crowd as being from Chicago half a world away.

Each year, approximately 3rd weekend in June is a celebration for students and those working in the education system, called Scarlet Night. The date is not fixed so they don't know the date until the end of April. Basically, it’s to celebrate graduation for the kids, and apparently stay up until the wee hours. We can attest, as we heard them at 5am. The city blocks off some roads, raises the bridges, and the plaza around Alexander I is cornered off for those who have tickets. Bands play until 4 am. It apparently is quite the site, and although we couldn’t go, folks cross the bridge to see the fireworks, and the Scarlet Ship which passes at 1am. As we had a tour in the morning, we opted out of seeing the fireworks. Next time perhaps.

The only tour we decided on this first round of staying in this city was to see Tsarkoe Selo, which is the summer palace for the Tsar’s back in the day. Peter the Great gifted this to his daughter Catherine. It used to take about 2-3 days to get there, and now for us, about 45 minutes. Empress Elizabeth, granddaughter of Peter the Great added to it and made it more lavish. The came Catherine the Great who thought there was way too much gold, and removed most of it, although you can still see gold on the outside. Typical palace, large rooms, gold everywhere, mirrors, very much like the Palace of Versailles as Russia very much wanted to bring the French culture to this city, in fact they spoke French at court.

The Summer Palace

The one room people want to see, is the Amber room, and alas no pictures are allowed. Apparently, Hitler and his crew removed this when they came to this palace and the whole place was pretty much in ruins after WWII. Once the Russians beat the German Army, they were trying to locate the original Amber, but alas they never did find it. They had master craftsman to painfully recreate this room.

After touring the palace and grounds, our guide took us back to the city, but not before showing us where Peter the Great lived, (his original home), mosque, the palace of Catherine the Great’s grandson, and the KGB office.

Went to visit the Peter and Paul fortress, which contains the Peter and Paul Cathedral. The cathedral originally was wood, and is now a nice stone building. There are other multiple buildings in the fortress where you can visit but we opted to see just the Cathedral where all the Tsar's are resting. The tombs of Catherine the First, Peter the Great, Nicholas I, Catherine the Great, well you get the point. Also, the Romanov’s that we killed in 1917 are now interred here as well.

Peter and Paul Fortress across the river.

Some of the Tsar's tombs

During our downtime we found pubs to watch the matches.

Coming back from Moscow, we had another 3 nights. As the forecast mentioned rain, we decided to go to St. Isaac’s cathedral as one can climb the 200+ stairs to get a view of Saint Petersburg.

Saint Issac's Cathedral

Stairs inside St. Issac's Cathedral

Quite the view, and after snapping a bunch of photos, we found a cute little store which one can buy caviar. Well, heck when in Russia. We did the tasting and had 10 year old black sturgeon done the Soviet way, which basically they kill the fish, and extract the eggs, compared to the newer way, with no killing involved. They also provide you with a nice cold shot of Vodka.

Caviar tasting, with the complimentary shot of vodka

The next day was our tour to the Hermitage. So the Hermitage, is actually a small building of where Catherine the Great housed her newly purchased artwork. Nowadays, the Hermitage actually incorporates about 6 buildings, of which the Winter Palace is included in this, as well as the General Assembly.

The original Hermitage building

Our first building was the Winter Palace and glad to have gotten there early, as the lines (especially from the cruises) went on forever...

Lines to get into the Hermitage

After seeing how the rich lived, and apparently when the Bolsheviks were running the place and there were no longer any Tsar's, they opened the Winter Palace to the public. They were a wee bit shocked as most were peasants, and had no idea of the grandeur inside these houses.

The Winter Palace - now part of the Hermitage

You move from one building to the next as they are interconnected, except for the General Assembly.

After spending about 3 hours, our guide left us in the General Assembly building as this is where all the art during the Renaissance times are housed. We spent about another 2 hours here, and then finally went to the 2nd house of Peter the Great which was a tiny place, also housed in one of the Hermitage buildings.

The General Assembly Building - now part of the Hermitage

For dinner we decided to go to the Vodka One restaurant as it’s also a museum. One can get over 100 different types of vodka, so we had to try a shot, although Mark isn’t much of a vodka lover, he did try, and I had to drink the rest of his.

The last full day in Saint Petersburg brought us to the Church of the Savior on Blood where Alexander II was murdered. His son built the church dedicating it to his dad. Of course looting ensued during Soviet times, and again this was carefully restored thanks to St. Isaac’s church. The walls painted were quite elaborate and extremely detailed. Very impressive.

Church of the Savior on Blood

After more walking around, we found a cute little bar, Depeche Mode where we settled in to watch the match Russia vs. Spain. It held about 20 people and they were all Russians. Russians won and from there the streets of Saint Petersburg became one very loud party. Cars honking, people waiving flags, screaming, one would think they won the World Cup. In speaking with some of the Russians they didn’t think they would move past the first round, so this was a very big deal for them.

Although it seems like 8 days is a long time in this city, it really isn’t. There were places we still wanted to see, Russian Museum, Museum of Photography, Summer Gardens, and some very cute bars.

Setting sun at 9:30 pm with the Admiralty as the backdrop

Ah well, next time.

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