Monday, 15 August 2011

St. Petersburg, Russia

What a city! What a river! An unparalleled city! … Look what harmony! How all the parts complete the whole! Such beautiful surroundings, such taste and altogether such variety springing from the union of water and buildings” – Russian poet Konstantin Batiushkov.

During a two week cruise in the Baltic seas the undoubted highlight of the trip was a two day stop in St. Petersburg, Russia. Before leaving home we researched and booked a two day tour with a Russian company, Alla Tours (, and it was easy and hassle free from start to finish. Our tour meant that we did not have to wait in a single queue for anything as our wonderful tour guide took us to the front of every queue and saved us hours of time by doing so. We quickly learned that queuing is a thing that Russians simply do not do- the tourists queue and the Russians simply walk to the front!

The first thing we did was to take a boat trip to view the city from the water which was a great way to obtain an initial overall view of the city and its many beautiful and ornate buildings. This was followed by a visit to the St. Peter and Paul Fortress and the inside of the Cathedral where many of the Russian Tsars are buried. The history of the Tsars is fascinating and wonderfully scandalous. We then travelled to Peterhof via hydrofoil (which took just 30 minutes rather than an hour by coach) and wandered through the beautiful, ornate gardens and taking in the many fountains, which are all powered by gravity.

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Catherine’s Palace is a place which any visitor to St. Petersburg should visit. The strikingly beautiful blue and white exterior of the building did little to prepare us for the stunning interior with many rooms decorated in gold, ornate ceilings and dazzling chandeliers adorning the Palace.

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The second day of our tour began in the Hermitage Museum, the third largest in the world. We spent more than two hours there admiring yet more stunning rooms decorated in gold and marble and saw original paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet and Titian to name but a few. The Hermitage can get very busy and another advantage of having a private booked tour was obtaining early entry into the museum which allowed us to see much of it comfortably and without too many crowds and this is something which I would highly recommend.

This was followed by a visit to The Church of the Spilled Blood, one of the most awe inspiring buildings I have ever seen. The bright blues and greens of its exterior together with its shining gold domes are something not to be missed. The interior is just as striking- it's mosaic covered walls and ceilings were painstakingly restored after the Bolsheviks went on an offensive against religion and destroyed churches all over the country in the 1930’s. The restoration of this, and many of the other buldings in the city, serve as a testament to the brave and couragous Russian people who have been through so much politically and socially in their country in relatively recent years.

The Church of the Spilled Blood

The final stop of our two day whirlwind tour of St. Petersburg was the Yusupov Palace and a walk through the room where Gregory Rasputin was allegedly poisoned and spent some of his last hours before escaping onto the streets of the city. Like the lives of the Tsars, Rasputin's life was also very interesting and somewhat scandalous.

Overall St. Petersburg is a fantastic city with so much to do and see. Despite having been lucky enough to visit a large number of cities in Europe I was wholly unprepared for the entirely different architecture which I found here. It is a city I would love to return to and spend much more time exploring.

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