St Petersburg, Russia
Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia. Peter the Great founded the city in 1703, but the name is in honor of St. Peter, not Peter the Great. An interesting tidbit - St. Petersburg, Florida was named in honor of St. Petersburg, Russia.
In 1914, the name of the city was changed to Petrograd and in 1924 to Leningrad in honor Vladmir Lenin. In 1991, it went back to being Saint Petersburg and is often referred to as the Venice of Russia because of all the canals.
St Petersburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most cosmopolitan and Western of Russia's cities.
It reminded us a lot of Vienna with its baroque and neoclassical architecture. Interestingly, it was Italian architects who built most of the buildings in the 1700. During WW II, the city experienced quite a bit of damage, but today it has been restored to its pre-war Imperial glory.
St Petersburg is legendary for its White Nights….long summer days when the sun barely goes down. While we were there, it stayed light outside until well past 11 pm. We stayed at the hip “W” hotel where they delivered a very special treat for me on my birthday.....the beautiful cake below, along with other goodies. Stop by my art blog and see everything they gave me.
Donald worked most of the time we were in St Petersburg, including Sunday. But I was out and about and explored the city. It was easier than Moscow to get around as there were signs and menus in English. More people spoke English, but still not as many as we would have thought. On Sunday, I went to the Udel’naya Flea Market and met up with a new Russian friend, the lovely Svetlana. Click here to read all about my flea market adventure.
The city has the deepest underground metro systems in the world and the stop by our hotel was one of the deepest. It took 3 minutes to ride the escalator down to the station and that was only one leg. Supposedly, they were built to serve as bomb shelters. The architecture in the stations was amazing; built in 1935 it holds its old world charm.
AND......the signs were in English!
The Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood
Gorgeous * Gorgeous * Gorgeous. The Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood, or the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, was simply amazing inside and out. The construction was started in 1883, but not completed until 1907. It was modeled after St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.
Why the unusual name ? The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was built to honor tsar Alexander II of Russia. On March 13, 1881, as the Tsar’s carriage passed along the embankment, a conspirator mortally wounded him with a bomb. Hence, the reference to "spilled blood". The section of the street on which the assassination took place is enclosed within the walls of the church.
During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the church was ransacked and the interior was badly damaged. In the 1930s, the Soviets closed the church, as they did with most churches in Russia. The interior is magnificent with everything made of mosaics: icons, pictures, walls, columns and arches, ceilings, floors; even the cupola.
During World War II, it was used as a storage facility for food. It suffered more damage during the war; and afterwards, was used for many years as a storage space for a local opera company.
In 1970, new management took over the church, and after 27 years of restoration, it was re-opened as a museum in August 1997.
I love how the outside colors of the domes are reflected on the inside. This is a must see when you visit St Petersburg.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
Saint Isaac's Cathedral took 40 years (1818 to 1858) to build. The exterior is in a traditional Russian-Byzantine style with a Greek-cross floor plan with a large central dome. The cathedral's facades are decorated with sculptures and massive granite columns (made of single pieces of red granite).
The dome is gilded with 220 pounds (100 kilos) of gold. During World War II, the dome was painted gray to avoid attracting attention from enemy aircraft.
The interior is adorned with incredibly detailed mosaic icons and paintings. It was originally decorated with paintings by famous Russian painters. When the paintings began to deteriorate due to the cold, damp conditions inside the cathedral, they were painstakingly reproduced as mosaics.
Internal features such as columns, walls, and the floor are created out of multicolored granites and marbles gathered from all parts of Russia.
A large, brightly-colored stained glass window of the "Resurrected Christ" makes up the main altar. The church was designed to accommodate 14,000 standing worshipers. Today, it is a museum and church services are only held on special holidays.
You can climb up 300 steps to the top of the church for a fabulous view of Isaac's Square and the city.
The Hermitage Museum
I spent the better part of a day in the stunning Hermitage Museum. Click here to take a tour of the Hermitage Museum on my art blog.
The Hermitage is on the Palace Square along with the Alexander Column. The column was erected between 1829-34 on the square in front of the Winter Palace at the command of Nicholas I, in memory of his brother Alexander I, the victor over Napoleon.
The General Staff building was built between 1820-30. The arch is the symbol of the triumph of Russia and the war against Napoleon.
Peter and Paul's Fortress
The Peter and Paul Fortress is the original citadel of St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and built 1706-1740
The fortress contains several buildings clustered around the Peter and Paul Cathedral (1712–1733), which has a 404 ft bell-tower and a gilded angel-topped cupola.
The cathedral is the burial place of all Russian tsars from Peter I to Alexander III; including the last of the ruling Romanov family, who were assassinated during the Bolshevik revolution.
The Buddy Bears were in town while we were visiting. Buddy Bears are life-sized, fiberglass bear sculptures from over 143 countries. The Buddy Bears were created to convey a message of peace, international understanding and tolerance among the nations, cultures and religions of the world. If you want to read more about the Buddy Bears visit my art blog.
D with the "United States Bear"
Me with "Russia Bear"
D with "Singapore bear"
D with "Belgium Bear"
Interesting things we saw around town...
Sometimes it's the little things that amuse us. Like these portable toilets we saw all over the city. What we found interesting was that each set had a woman who took care of them. One of the toilets was used as her office and as a place for her to reside all day. I was told that they were owned by the Russia mafia.
We did not see any outdoor markets, but they do have cute little shops like the ones shown in the photo below all over the city.
How about this stand selling melons?
And our normal food photos - were you getting worried that we did not eat in Russia? The food photos are from both Moscow and St Petersburg.
To find truly local cuisine, you had to go to Soviet-style
self-service cafeterias. More for the student and budget conscious traveler, but we were attracted by the traditional food.
Blini (filled pancakes) and beets (I love beets!).
One night we had all salads, or should I say we had all cabbage and beets!
More Blini - filled with cabbage.
It was from the little Tepemok shop shown below and found all over the city. Did I mention this was breakfast?
D and his quest for the perfect street food. What is it you ask?
A hot dog, wrapped in a burrito type shell with warm potato salad, pickles, and crunchy onions. And a squirt of Mayonnaise! Sounds gross, but I have to admit, I took one bite and it was really good. D LOVED it, especially that warm potato salad!
I opted for the baked potato with a trio of salads on top: potato salad, pickles and mushrooms, and a hotdog cheese mixture : ) Odd, but very tasty. D was amused that you could buy a potato, topped with potato salad.
Yes... we did eat at nice restaurants too! This was the standard menu in Russian. Basically close your eyes and point.
We were in a sweet little restaurant where the waitress could say three words - meat, stroganoff, and cake. Seriously - this was all she knew. I immediately raised my hand when she said stroganoff. D randomly pointed to a dish for his main course, and the waitress said "cake". Oops, let's try again. So he proceeds to do sign language for his meal. Can you guess the animal? Neither could the waitress. Next, he pushed up his nose and said "oink oink".
The waitress guessed it, as he was served a delicious pork dish with a mustard sauce with prunes and walnuts. And of course cabbage.
And we did get cake!
It was SO GOOD! A chocolate creme layered with lots of thin pancakes.
We also ate the very nice MiXin restaurant at the W hotel. Owned by Alain Ducasse, a French, Michelin starred chef we follow. This was not one of his Michelin restaurants but it was still excellent.
Appetizer: Pumpkin soup
Main: Fish with artichokes
Dessert: a perfect little chocolate cake with mocha ice cream
Our eating philosophy....low-end or high-end....no in-between! Unless it is for pie! Svetlana (flea market friend) introduced me to the Stolle cafe and we ended up there several times for their incredible pies! They served both savory and sweet. Oh could I go for a piece right now!
And I leave you with my very favorite Russian icon - the Matryoshka nesting dolls.
We found St Petersburg to be a modern European city. It was very clean and we felt safe. Many reviews will tell you that you must have a guide to visit St Petersburg. We did not agree. You do have to be a little more patient with the lack of English, but it is easy and fun to explore on your own.