Saint Petersburg, Russia. Part III: Palaces
Going to start off with an incredible timelapse video here (they seem to be popular in Russia), since it starts right out of the gate with Catherine Palace. And at 2:11 we have Peterhof Palace (the fountains and especially the aerial shots are amazing). It's a beautiful way to daydream through three minutes with great background music.
There are a lot of Palaces in Saint Petersburg. I'm not even going to try and cover most of them, just some of the most popular ones. The two I already mentioned had English speaking day trips available to both of them.
The first one most folks would see upon arrival in Saint Petersburg would be the Winter Palace (or the Hermitage, since the museum is inside) right on the Palace Square, but we're going to kick off with Peterhof Palace, which is one of the most visited and also my favorite.
If one was to try and write about all the palaces both in Russia and anywhere else, words like: opulence, luxury, gold, exquisite and so on would have to be overused.
Plus there's generally a bunch of stuff written on all those places, since they're very popular. I'll try to be brief here. Visit Peterhof Palace Wikipedia page - if you're looking for more details.
It's situated is about 1-1.5 hr bus ride or about 1 hour on the hydrofoil boat (the palace complex is situated on the Gulf Of Finland). Hydrofoils can be jumped on every 30 minutes right off Neva river and Winter Palace. We've done both - first time with an English tour (I think the cost was about $40 or 50 each) and boat the second time. Here's the pic of a hydrofoil I snagged online in front of the Hermitage.
The bus tour arrives at the Upper Gardens, which are free to visit and you get to see the back of the palace first. This is the view you get when you arrive from the water.
And voila! It's exquisite, without being overdone. Peterhof was quite reserved when Peter The Great built it originally, but was spruced up and "improved" over the years. It was also almost destroyed during the World War II and the disappearance of the Amber Room is still one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.
Look back from the top terrace - the stage is due to a festival of closing of the fountains for winter going on during September.
Inside is lots of gold, silks and some old furniture. If we can we usually walk through quickly and snap some pics - I just love wandering around looking at stuff, preferably outside. I'm just not into the 194 piece China set from some century before and some chairs or some clothes (unless it's medieval armor!) - no matter how nice they are.
There's also very ornate fireplaces (the blue thing in the middle). I do love the - "I don't want a painting on the wall, can we do a wall of painting instead?". Go big or go home! That being said this might be Catherine's palace - I just can't remember.
There's tons of beautiful parquet floors, but this one reminded me of a nuclear symbol.
The parks outside are where it's at for me. It's easy to wander around for a couple of hours just enjoying the clean air and beautiful details everywhere.
Ducks and pigeons just hanging out.
Ancient Greece inspired fountain?
Original Peter The Great's summer home settled in a beautiful garden.
I love the fact that the Palace property sits on different levels giving it a lot more visual interest (it's also done to gravity feed the fountains in the lower park from the upper park's ponds). This is the back of it you get to see if you arrive by land.
And some beautiful Upper Gardens to walk around - much more reserved, with marble statues instead of gold. Peterhof is a fantastic day trip from Saint Petersburg. I'd do it on the 3rd day after arrival after spending a couple days in the city to break from the bustling city center to a more green and relaxed countryside. It's incredible! Weather was beautiful both years as well in September.
One of the Chinese tour bus brands made my immature side giggle.
Tsarksoe Selo (or Tsar Village) also called Catherine Palace is, there's no way to describe it any differently, simply enormous. It's by far the biggest palace/estate I've ever been to. Something like 1000+ rooms. It's almost impossible to take the picture of it entirely... It's unfortunate the 1917 Revolution when Bolsheviks threw over the Emperor in the Winter Palace, but I get it. Once you see the gold and opulence and bizarre lavishness, it's not hard to imagine why the common folks living in misery were not quite happy. I'm generally non-political, but visiting this place I just couldn't help, but think of the excess. Peterhof is much much smaller and somehow doesn't conjure the images of peasants armed with their pitchforks.
But we're already here, so let's dove in.
The pic above is however much of the palace the camera can handle without backing up onto the grass. Below is the beautiful columns (which used to be gold plated, but it became too much maintenance now). Red carpet to enter and bask in the magnificience.
Official entrance road to the palace with a fancy black and gold gate. Tourists arrive from the side.
Tour starts inside. The white and red ornate room was one of my favorite - nice and refreshing without gold plating everything.
See what I mean about the gold and revolution? And a painted ceiling just to spruce things a bit.
Ornate ceiling and wall details.
Probably a 1000+ piece china set, without sailboat though...
All the rooms were different, but you get the idea.
There's expos of clothes and some other stuff from the period.
Ah, back outside! The view of the palace from the gardens is incredible.
Lawns with statues. Greek pavilion is just above and to the left of the statue.
The entire palace and its property dwarfs Peterhof (Versailles too). We didn't have enough time to walk the entire place without being late to the bus.
The pavilion above is full of ancient Greek (I think) busts and is situated higher up with fantastic views.
Looking to the side.
Parks are so huge, some people take it up a few notches!
Creeping on a wedding a bit. There were a few at the Peterhof as well when we were there. T-shirt was appropriate: "Zero Fox Given"...
Take any of the paths and stroll around - there's something to see everywhere.
If you were to take the right path above - it brings you here.
A longer path goes around the lake with several pavilions on the opposite side (we wanted to visit the Asian one) - we didn't have enough time for.
There was a snack however.
Well worth a visit. So much to do & see. For a lover of wandering around while looking at new scenery - it's incredible.
The world second largest art & culture museum after the Louvre, The Hermitage is situated inside the Winter Palace, the last residents of Russan Tsars/Emperors. It's a huge green and white complex right off the Palace Square.
I've lived for three years in St. Petersburg before leaving forever to the States and never actually visited, so I needed to catch up on some cultural learnings.
First a little tour around the outside. One day a display of winter cleaning equipment was all over the place - some high ranking bureaucrat (government official) decided to show it off. Workers just hung out there all day doing nothing. Strange, but kind of neat sight though to see so much cool machinery so out of place (this is about a third in the picture).
The view of the palace, the Admiralty (gold spire) and St. Isaac's Cathedral (gold dome) from the opposite bank of Neva River.
Statues look exactly like my brother.
Tickets in person were 700 rubles (just under 10 bucks at the time). Online it shows $17.95, so I'd just get them in person. Lines for Russians are long since they get a discount, but we got ours almost immediately at the automatic kiosk. Tickets are bought in the inner courtyard.
The museum has a bazillion pieces (over three million). Monique (my wife) is a huge fan of ancient Egypt, so I sat on the bench for about 45 minutes, while she explored. There's a real mummy as well.
I like the quiet halls.
Upstairs are more popular and rather crowded. Very quiet and peaceful downstairs. And Ancient Greece and Rome are neat.
I love anything Medieval (a lot of my projects end up going in that directions somehow - heraldic shields, Viking dragon heads etc).
Very cool wooden library.
At Hermitage, they have paintings and by Leonardo, Raphael, Picasso and so on. There's lots and lots of paintings. Also statues.
An ultimate "F&ck you!" to the peasants - the Gold Room.
There's tons of gold and very fancy interiors as well.
Vintage machinery was cool.
Definitely worth a visit. If you're into museums - you'll absolutely love it. If not - you still probably find something you like amongst so many exhibits and briefly walk through everything and go have some delicious food afterwards (the Shawarma place is right nearby).
Smaller and less ornate, built by not-as-important Emperor and furthest away from St. Petersburg (probably 1:45-2 hr bus ride), Gatchina is a worthy tour if you've seen the other Palaces already. Pretty sure the tours are in Russian only, but not 100%.
I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It was nice to see something with less gold and not as imposing. The gardens and grounds were beautiful without being completely overdone.
I wonder how messy that gravel/sand courtyard turns when it rains?
Interiors are more subdued. Refreshing!
The guide had a bike - the tour starts at the Palace, then the gardens in the back and a slow walk through the estate with exit to the bus on the opposite end of the property. It'd be a long walk back each time, so the bicycle makes sense. Probably fun too.
Gardens with statues.
I wouldn't trust that face.
Very rustic. The number of ducks in the park was staggering. Chapel is in the distance.
Chapel on the lake.
Look back at the Palace from opposite side of the lake.
There were more pavilions and little building, shaded paths & little bridges, but this post has already gotten out of hand long ago, so I'll just wrap it up.
St. Peterburg has an incredible array of luxurious palaces and estates within the city and as day trips outside. What's not to love?
And now we're moving on to one of my favorite topics: Castles & Fortifications!