Saint Petersburg, Russia. Part I: City Center

 
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First trip back to the Motherland in September 2015 since I left in 2004. Went back again almost exactly a year later in 2016, partly because it's beautiful and so much to do, partly because Monique's visa cost almost $300 and was good for 3 years. 

I was a bit worried going back that it was going to be a letdown, and my memories of it are brighter due to rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. I had nothing to worry about. It was epic!

Going to St. Peterburg in September is perfect - the weather was incredible both times - probably about 60-70 degrees during the day and mostly sunny, with 40-50 degrees at night. Summers in St. Petersburg are generally spotty with lots of rain, although the "White Nights" are stunning - due to its northerly location it doesn't get dark during the height of summer, but dark pink, like a sunset that doesn't end. It's quite beautiful and romantic, but far more expensive to go, plus crowds are larger. Schools and universities usually start in Russia on September 1 (which is called the Day of Knowledge), so the crowds die down a bit and the prices reflect that.

I'm no huge fan of Russia, but St. Petersburg won my heart years ago, when I was a student there for 3 years, before moving to the States. There are huge amounts of stuff to do - the city is absolutely stunning. I love the fact that city does not have mix and match style architecture - I can't stand skyscrapers next to historic buildings. 

Saint Petersburg was built as a capital right off the bat with meticulous planning & it definitely shows. It's called Venice Of The North quite frequently due to all the canals & beauty. It has both cozy streets and wide open panoramas. Just incredible.

Everything was rather inexpensive and the food amazing. English speaking bus tour for about 3 hours around the main city areas was only $10 or $15 per person.  Day trip to Peterhof (like Versailles, but much fancier) was only $25 or $30 each - English speaking as well.

Everything is generally very European, clean & nice. Look at that view from our "Golden Triangle" hotel's - classy!

Let's dive into the world of exquisite beauty, opulence, and some snacks in no particular order,


One of my favorite places is the arch leading to the Palace Square. Our hotels (first one was good, but I don't remember the name, but the 2nd one was the lovely "Golden Triangle" with absolutely superb location and great food) were nearby both times. The scale of the entire place is off the charts (check the wiki link - the aerial view gives a glimpse). Look how tiny everyone is! 

We took a ride around the square in the carriage to get that sweet sweet royalty feel. It's was quite hot inside though.

Obligatory handstand. Behind is the Winter Palace also known as the Hermitage, which is the second largest art & culture museum in the world after the Louvre. I'll cover more in the Palace's chapter.

The Hermitage is incredibly well lit at night - that's where I regret only dragging my phone around and not a professional camera. When we first arrived it was about 11 pm, so at around 1 am the pic was taken. It's a large city, so it never quite sleeps and there's always stuff to do and places to eat.

On the other side of Hermitage is the main waterway - river Neva with granite covered banks. The Palace Bridge on the left is right next to the Hermitage. The bridge on the right will lead to the Peter & Paul Fortress (also that's the island my University campus was on and where I spent the bulk of my time).

Peter and Paul fortress is enormous. I'll cover it in the Castles & Fortifications part. Note the little gold strip under the cathedral right above the nose of the boat (canal boat tours start everywhere, are cheap & awesome, ).

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That's the "little" beach zoomed in. The bridge far away brings you back to the mainland next to the Summer Garden and Field of Mars, just minutes away from Hermitage & Palace Square.

As everything else - the Summer Garden is large (it's a tiny fraction in this pic) with statues, fountains, mazes, couple cafes and some other stuff.

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Church of Savior on Blood is a classic style Russian cathedral nearby, right off the Nevsky prospect. It's very similar to the Saint Basil Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow. Very ornate, very colorful and huge situated on a beautiful canal with cobblestone streets.

Kids were having a ball playing with the bubbles made by a street performer. To the right is the Singer House (also known as House of Books, since it's a bookstore) and the left wing of Kazan Cathedral.

Not a bad view.

Different perspective on the picture above. Going to be hell of a background behind that coffee cup!

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Between Kazan Cathedral and the Singer House is Nevsky Prospekt - the main road in the city center - a huge wide road. It was an epic part of the Top Gear episode filmed in St. Petersburg, if you're a Top Gear fan, which I am. There's tons of cafes, stores and everything else imaginable on both sides with wide side walks. It's beautifully lit at night. It ends at the Palace Square on one end and it's a great walk from one end to the other. I'd guess it's about 4 to 6 miles long.

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Nevsky at night.

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Nevsky to the left, Gostiny Dvor to the right (indoor market place). Beautiful to just stroll around and hang out. 

Cute streets T off from Nevsky every city block with more details, statues, places to go & see. 

Somehow I can't find my picture, but we can take some side streets like this one with a Bank Bridge aka The Griffon Bridge that's right behind the Kazan Cathedral and the Church of Savior on Blood in the distance...

 Borrowed from interwebz

Borrowed from interwebz

... and end up at the St. Isaac Cathedral, which is incredible. I prefer this style to the over-colorful, an almost cartoony look of the Savior on Blood and St. Basil cathedrals. Look at the details on the statue in front of it and the light and the patina... Mind-boggling.

You get an incredible view from the top in all direction, but the best one I'll save for the Cathedrals & Churches post, but here's a view towards Neva river.

Down in the park above is the statue to Peter The Great and beautiful view of the cathedral.

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From there it's a beautiful stroll along the river through parks with fountains next to the Admiralty buildings.

Lots of green and fresh air right off the city center.

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Man, there's just so much to see and do, it was hard to pick the right images to give a small glimpse into the grandiose, yet intimate beauty of St. Petersburg... Probably not as hard as making the intricate wrought iron fence of the Hermitage Palace overlooking the Palace Square and the Aleksander Column (in the center of the square) though... Just look at those details! P.S. I have to obviously pick and choose stuff and skip so much otherwise these already long posts will turn into books.

Next up: Food!