Cultural St. Petersburg

This was a 8D/7N package tour taken with Chan Brothers.

Continued from Moscow.

The arrival in St Petersburg heralded the beginning of a good few days of beautiful weather. Though it was already close to 6pm when we arrived, the sun was still up. Even after dinner the day was still so bright that we had time to drive around town for a good look-see.

Our hotel is away from the centre of town, but well sited. Next to a large supermarket, we bought not only bottled water (Suan’s obsession) but also fruits to accompany our sparkling wine.

23rd May
Arriving in St Petersburg, the skies turned clear and bright till well after dinner time. And we drove around the city as it was still bright!
After arriving, we are now driving along the Nevesky Prospekt, the main thoroughfare of the city. It is said to be built only after thousands of pylons were driven in the marshy grounds. Built according to a “general plan”, our guide said that migrants to the city had to bring Nevesky Prospekt12 Nevesky Prospekt9stones with them, to help in the construction of the city!
Nevesky Prospekt17 As it is the evening and the daylight ends later, we drove on through and admired the beautiful array of buildings. We are headed to the Kazan Cathedral, the highlight of this evening where we took a photo stop before heading to the hotel. Kazan Catedral2
View of Church of Spilt blood5 Evening drive to Holiday Inn2 Evening drive to Holiday Inn4
This is also where we got closest to the Church of savior of spilled blood, the St Petersburg version of St Basil’s cathedral. Unfortunately there is an event and we could not drive near. So, best shots it is from Kazan!

Finally beautiful weather at last!

The architecture of St Petersburg is markedly different, being a city that was founded in 1700 (or thereabouts depending on who you read). Thus 300 years of history compared with Moscow that date back so much longer.

Its buildings are definitely influenced by a bunch of Italians gone wild, having been commissioned by the Tsar to help design the city. You may not see it from the photos, but the frescoed reliefs on the walls of the buildings, or just below the windows all hints of a touch of Italian influence.

Certainly the Tsar wanted to make the city so much grander that it would overshadow the former capital. We look forward to seeing even more grandeur in the coming days.

24th May
Today we went to the Peter and Paul fortress in great weather! Then off to St Isaac’s cathedral. But the main event was the Hermitage! Fantastic but too short!
Our first full sunny day started with a drive and photo stop at Birzhevaya Ploschad. Here, we can take in views of the winter palace, Peter and Paul fortress and one of the widest point of the Neva river. There are also colonnades following the Greek tradition of putting the bow of boats on column,View from Birzhevaya Ploshcad16 often as trophies from victories. Rostral.View from Birzhevaya Ploshcad11
View from Birzhevaya Ploshcad23 View from Birzhevaya Ploshcad32 Built to contain the aggression of the Swedes, Peter & Paul fortress was never used as such. The fortress’s birth is in 1703, though the main construction took place over 1706-1740. Eventually the site was used for political prisoners instead!
Paul and Peter Fortress - Cathedral1 Paul and Peter Fortress - Cathedral11 Paul and Peter Fortress - Cathedral7
We were in the Peter and Paul cathedral, where various members of the Romanov family are buried.
One such person is Anastasia, the so-called last of the dynasty. She had drownedPaul and Peter Fortress - Cathedral22
and her plaque is on the walls of the cathedral.Paul and Peter Fortress - Cathedral23 Paul and Peter Fortress - Cathedral25Peter and Paul Fortress20
So much for any imposters that claim to be Anastasia…only two other members are still not interred here as the bodies are not found. DNA testing verifies.
The bell tower at 122.5m is said to be the tallest in the city. From its base, you can see the gold gilded spire. It is from this fortress that grew eventually into the sprawling city of today.
Peter and Paul Fortress18 With its six bastions, the fortress can take some time to explore, however our group only had time for the cathedral. So, we had skipped the other parts of the site.
We passed the mint shop which was constructed in the early years of the 1800s and still produces commemorative coins, medals etc.
Time to move on and our next stop is St Isaac Cathedral. The fourth church to stand in its location, it took 40 years to construct and had
Peter and Paul Fortress17to use 25,000 piles driven into the marshland.
View of St Issac2There are 112 red granite columns with Corinthian capitals, the dome (3rd largest in the world) is gold plated with more than 100kg of gold leaf. Did you know it was painted over in grey during WWII to avoid attracting attention from enemy aircraft? St Issac Cathedral4 St Issac Cathedral1
St Issac Cathedral6While the heavy bronze doors are impressive, the malachite columns that line the iconostasis within is even more so! In fact the cathedral is so large that it is said to accommodate 14,000 worshippers at any one time. There is a 300-step walk to the 90m high observation platform which we missed. St Issac Cathedral21 St Issac Cathedral13
 St Issac Cathedral27 Saying goodbye to the beautifully frescoed dome of St Isaac, we are now headed to the Hermitage. Founded as a museum by Catherine the Great in 1764, it was opened to the public in 1852. Our guide told us that the original inducement for the public to visit was the free vodka! Hermitage ticket
Hermitage Main stairway entry12 Hermitage Catherine Dancing hall7There is more than 3 million items here of which 1/3 are Numismatic items. It has the largest collection of paintings. Hermitage silverware collection3
Hermitage silverware collection4 Hermitage silverware collection7Silverware was definitely one of the many decorative arts that served both a utilitarian purpose and for ostentatious displays of wealth. Probably rotated for display, there were numerous pieces from various European origins in these glass cabinets. We are not sure if these treasure galleries may only be visited as part of a guided tour…Hermitage silverware collection6This large bowl served to hold wine, as if it was just a punch bowl.This table center piece was produced in the mid 1700s.
More decorative art we can see from woodwork to paintings can be enjoyed along the walkway between the north and south pavilions. The below carving is said to resemble the features of a Russian leader.Hermitage silverware collection8Look carefully to see who that can be….↓ Hermitage Potrait room4Actually called the Military gallery, it is the place where 332 paintings of Generals that took part in the 1812 war against Napoleon. Fortunately the fire of 1837 did not destroy the paintings. Otherwise we would not be viewing them today! Hermitage Potrait room0
Hermitage exhibits6 Hermitage exhibits1 Hermitage exhibits8
Hermitage Clock exhibit5 Portrait of Catherine the Great adorn many of the chambers. The Pavilion hall has 18th-century golden Peacock Clock (center above) by James Cox and a collection of mosaics which still runs with the peacock flexing its wings.Hermitage floorboard2 Hermitage Renaissance art19Hermitage floorboard3
Hermitage Rembrandt2 So many sculptures are here from the Italian renaissance. There is also a large collection of Dutch and Flemish baroque period paintings.
Here we have many paintings from Rembrandt in a hall dedicated to his works. It is interesting to note from our guide that the subjects in the paintings “descended” to that of ordinary or poor people. Our guide postulates that this was due to Rembrandt not having sufficient funding to pay for models. True? Let’s find out.
Hermitage Greek exhibits12 Hermitage Greek exhibits7 Hermitage Greek exhibits5
Hermitage Greek exhibits10 The Greek artifacts ranged from the 3rd–5th centuries BC. Ancient Greek pottery and every day utensils. Ancient Greek helmets hang in the cabinets.
← Sculptures hanging on the walls as we head into a classical antiquities hall. This leads us on to the Egyptian collection of the Hermitage.
Hermitage Greek exhibits4
Hermitage Egyptian exhibits2On display without any barrier, these statuettes were probably purchased from countess Lavalle in 1852 when the museum was opened to the public. Hermitage Egyptian exhibits5 Hermitage Egyptian exhibits8
Hermitage Egyptian exhibits11 Hermitage Egyptian exhibits16 Hermitage Egyptian exhibits31
There are quite a few sarcophagus and on them you can still see the hieroglyphs clearly. Some items were purchased for the museum from antiquities traders in Egypt and collections of Russian merchants or received as gifts. Clearly in the 1800s, there was some kind of free-for-all to grab what you will from Egypt. However, much of the collection was also moved from other museums and academies that studied ancient Egyptian history or art.
Hermitage Egyptian exhibits27 Cloak rooms at Hermitage2 Cloak rooms at Hermitage3
Winter Palace and palace square7 ↑ There is a cloak room where you can deposit your belongings (such as large bags). Especially useful in winter time. We end off with a walk in Palace square, taking in the sights of the winter palace. 2 hours is definitely not enough for the Hermitage, so we will be back in the future?Winter Palace and palace square1 Winter Palace Alexandra monument2
Winter Palace and palace square12 Winter Palace 3 Finally came back out to Palace square, this large expanse of space is used for civic purposes today. But back in the day it was the Winter Palace grounds. Notice the statues on the roof of the palace? There are all different gods from both the Greek and Roman pantheon of deities.
Dinner at Peimeni making2 Peimeni making1 Peimeni making7Peimeni making3
Dinner today is at a local Russian restaurant where we will be making Pelmeni – Russian dumpling if you like. Using unleavened dough, we wrapped generous fillings of pork after rolling the dough into very thin sheets. Fortunately it was not all for us to eat. They did boil our creations but it was just a supplement to our actual meal…phew! The fun ended, we washed up and had pork shashlik as an additional order. Nice!
Then it was a nice drive back to the hotel, along the way we could see the Winter Palace, Bronze horseman and St Isaac Cathedral up close for one last time before we bade farewell to the city tomorrow.
Winter Palace 10 Sneakview St Issac1 St Issac3

It is always an interesting way to find out about how an entire city’s founding started from a military rationale. St Petersburg’s founding was not originally meant to be as a capital. It was more of a fortification to hold onto captured territories taken from the Swedes.

It was indeed a bold move, but the actual decision to shift the capital from Moscow to St Petersburg was marred by controversy. The nobility of the time resented the move while Peter the Great’s desire was to have an permanent outlet to the sea that leads to Europe.

So the Peter and Paul fortress is an emblematic symbol of the beginning of the city.

On the other hand as the city grew in importance, it was embellished by yet more grandiose palaces such as the Winter Palace built along the Neva river. This is now the State Hermitage museum, one of the world’s most important one in our opinion. We have placed our travel handprint here!

25th May
A drive out to Peterhof, located right on the shores of the Gulf of Finland. Spent 3 hours there! Back to the city we took the Neva cruise. It rained but cleared up later. The day ended with the folklore show which was quite good.
Located ~40km to the eastDrive to Peterhof1 of St Petersburg,Walk to Peterhof1 Peterhof sits on the entry to the gulf of Finland. Officially opened in 1723, the palatial grounds is more than a thousand hectares in size and comprise not only of the upper park and Great Palace. There is the lower park and Marly palace which we totally missed altogether!
We entered from the lower park, to tour the Great palace. It is the centre of the entire complex, though no photos are allowed. We even had to put on shoe covers to enter the premises. A canal runs from the Samson fountains and cascade towards the sea. Great vantage from the palace itself. At the fountains are a great many gold gilded statues that appear dancing with the water sprouts. We spent the bulk of our near 3 hours around the fountains and its cascade before walking along the canal. You can buy your own tickets if traveling independently. Entrance to Peterhof6
Clouds over Peterhof2 Peterhof Fountains19 Peterhof Fountains9
At the end of the canal is the hydrofoil pier. From here it is a 45 minute ride back to the city, alighting near the Hermitage. Idyllic, even the ducks are having a swell time preening themselves!
 Peterhof Fountains43The fountains only run from summer (May onwards we are told). Peterhof waterway ducks6Peterhof waterway to the gulf2 Peterhof pier1Peterhof pier2
Peterhof Front garden view5 Peterhof Entry Chapel1 Actually the upper park is free, and you sort of see the backend of the Great Palace with the palace ponds in the foreground. This part itself is 15 hectares in size and also has numerous fountains to moot. Unfortunately we only had 10 minutes here before we were called off to the bus for the ride back to the city.
Well, it was lunch that we were called to before the long drive back to the city. Just in time at 4pm too, as we boarded our own little boat to cruise the Neva river and canals of the city.
Just like the canal cities of Venice and Amsterdam, the cruise gives you a perspective that would otherwise not be visible when on foot. On the other hand you don’t have to walk, which is the great advantage. This hour’s tour was mostly marred by rain, but it receded as we neared the end of the cruise!
Neva River Cruise7Even on a grey day the colors of the buildings stand out. Neva River Cruise8Looks like the bridge of sighs in Venice? Neva River Cruise42Neva River Cruise14
Neva River Cruise - Church of Spilt blood10 ← The cruise was the time we got closest to the Church of savior of spilled blood. Long name but supposedly comparable to St Basil’s in Moscow. Our guide told us that there is an event and thus we could not drive near it.
Neva River Cruise46
Neva River Cruise54We think that the larger boats such as in the photos above cannot traverse through the smaller canals that our boat went – such as Zimnyaya that runs alongside the Hermitage theatre. so, having our own smaller vessel does help.
Neva River Cruise23Disembarking, it was time to head for our folk show. But not before another stop at the St Isaac Cathedral for photos of the bronze horseman! View at St Issac1 Russian folklore show5Russian folklore show2
Russian folklore show6 2-hours long with an intermission of 20 minutes, the folk show was half of music and half folk dancing. It was free seating, and as we had arrived late we sat on the side. Which was fine, because we had first chance to adjourn to the next room for our drinks and canapés. Russian folklore show8
During intermission, a reasonably wide spread of finger food were served, along with wine and champagne. We also had time to wander about the grand hall area where booths were set up selling CDs of folk music, souvenirs of all kinds…
Then it was back to the concert hall for the 2nd half. We had been with the 7pm session. There is another one from 9pm! That was a nice way to conclude the touring part of our stay here in St Petersburg.

Yeah, Peterhof was full of photo opportunities. The Great Palace itself was very restrictive in terms of photography and also how long you can stay in each chamber. It kind of felt being herded along as if we were prison inmates. So it was not as enjoyable and definitely not memorable – it’s hard to recall what we saw!

The gardens and fountains on the other hand are wonderful. It is worth at least a trip to see these beautifully landscaped mosaic of water. Especially wonderful in the late Spring/early summer time with the green on the trees and colors of the flowers painting a kaleidoscope.

The river cruise is really nice, if weren’t for the rain and clouds. As with Mr Murphy, he rained on our parade at least one time and this was it. Otherwise it would have been even better!

Included in our itinerary is the folk show. So it is not an optional which you pay additional. But even if you have to, it is worth a night out. The free flow of wine, champagne and canapés should be sufficient to make it worthwhile!

26th May
Time to depart for Moscow. But not before being dropped off on our own at the mall near the train station.
Irina our guide2 Irina our guide. Grandmother and retired school teacher (she used to teach chemistry). She is a very knowledgeable lady who shared so many stories with us about everyday life of Russians during the post Soviet years.Big Kitchen Lunch6 Big Kitchen Lunch7Having been dropped off at the mall, we headed straight for the restaurant which Suan had identified for our authentic Russian lunch. We only know of its name as “big kitchen” from the website listed on its business card. Located on
the 5th floor, it had an international menu (ie pastas, pizza, paella etc), but we chose beef stroganoff, Russian dumplings (filled with cottage cheese) and a salad with crab from Kamchatka. All in it cost us about S$43 for the entire meal with drinks. Big Kitchen Lunch14Definitely higher standard than the meals Big Kitchen Lunch8we had with the tour group…
Big Kitchen Lunch13 Big Kitchen Lunch9Big Kitchen Lunch11 Galleria roof view2Galleria roof view8
These dumplings are larger and look more like the Asian ones… Salad came with shrimps but the crab meat was a little sparse.
Big Kitchen Fascade1 Rendezvous with the group took place at 12:40pm and again we had the chaotic entry to the train platform. The journey back was uneventful. We did get to see the marshland, lakes and rivers along the way, dotted with dachas or perhaps real homes? Scenic? Perhaps. But it was just work for Melvin sorting out the photos.. Train Petersburg to Moscow1
Train Petersburg to Moscow2 Train Petersburg to Moscow5 Train Petersburg to Moscow11
MFA Moscow3 Monument at Ulitsa Borodinskiy1 ← Having driven over the bridge so many times we had to find out what this is. At Ulitsa Borodinskiy bridge, this roman portico with warrior statues are adorned with armor and military insignia to commemorate the 1812 patriotic war victory over Napoleon.Monument at Ulitsa Borodinskiy5

The last real night of our journey to Russia is upon us. But not without finally getting to eat on our own and tasting how Russians really have their food! As we mentioned, package tour meals are not something to trumpet about and the last couple of days have been not quite up to scratch. But then we did not come here for the gourmet treatment.

The train ride back to Moscow was quiet as everyone fell into a slumber over the 4 hours. Again Mel busied himself writing the travelogues which has been translated to this journalog on the blog. Meanwhile Suan did a combination of dozing, gazing out of the window and interrupting Mel…Puzzles, we need to bring these when we next make a journey…

27th May
Lazy morning. Time to pack up and set off for the airport and finally – home!
It was a late morning call today, as we took time to pack in our clothes and shopping. The breakfast buffet today was near empty today at 9:15am, with most of the other tourists having departed for their day activities.  Drive to airport1  Drive to airport3
Then a 1½ hour drive to the airport. How lucky is the next group coming in today. Beautiful weather and warm too! To get into the terminal there is a security checkpoint where your luggage is scanned before you get to the check-in counters.
 Lada Dealership2  Drive to airport blue dome cathedral2  Airport Chaos1
Having checked in and obtained our boarding pass, we were left free to wander in the terminal for lunch. Thinking that we were pressed for time, we ordered two cakes for a quick meal from one of the cafes. They actually tasted very nice, especially the rich chocolate one, though the pistachio one was very yummy too…time to fly home, watching 3 movies and writing this travelogue at the same time!
 Airport Chaos2  Lunch delights1  Lunch delights2

Conclusion? It was the right decision to make the journey to Russia at this time.

Our option had been to do this journey in August or September, at the tail-end of the tourist season. Opportunistically this group package formed up and we signed on. 35 people, that’s how many in the group. The coach could accommodate 40+. So Misha if you a reading this you are right, it was an invasion for about 8 days…

But like Napoleon we retreated back, to our humble little red dot. Not because of defeat on the battlefield, but because we had already captured enough booty to come home victoriously. This booty came in the form of great photos, fantastic experiences in the museums and sites and for us some good food (on our own).

Wouldn’t you want to go to Russia too?

Back to Moscow

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