I’ve been struggling to write our Wandering Memories of St Petersburg for a long while.
I think it’s because we were so excited to visit, and there were elements that we really enjoyed, but also some reservations. Actually thinking about it, I think it was because although we saw a lot of it, the experience was slightly lacking as we didn’t get to really feel the true sense of the city.
This may have a lot to do with security but mostly the visa situation. I am usually not one to worry about security, having visited many countries with high crime rates, but this just felt a little different. The Visa situation astonished me, as a 2 day tour with SPB tours actually cost the same amount as an individual visa, therefore why wouldn’t you book the tour? Its simple maths… The downside of this, is once the tour has concluded you are not allowed back out past border controls. Granted I am sure you can, but it’s not sensible to annoy Russians! This meant that once each day was concluded we were taken back to our cruise ship and had to stay there… there was no freedom to wander around and search for adventure.
That being said the tour was great, first stop the Hermitage Museum, which was incredible. Megan and I are renowned for wandering around museums very quickly. It’s not that we don’t enjoy them; we simply like to appreciate in our own way. The Vatican Museum we were told would be 4-6 hours, we completed in 2 hours and the Louvre well that was an hour and a half.
The Hermitage is just as big, and although we were guided, we spent about 3 hours visiting. I really liked it, especially the Rembrandt Gallery that was just astonishing, other highlights included the Peacock clock, works by Raphael, Da Vinci and Michelangelo and a whole host of Russian antiquities. I could’ve spent hours in the Rembrandt gallery as it was just incredible, and very inspiring.
The building itself is also something special, as it really stands out, against many of the colourless buildings of St Petersburg. It is coloured an unmissable light green/blue standing proud on the banks of the river Neva – consisting of a number of buildings including the Winter Palace.
Our second stop was the Church on Spilled Blood, which was also one of my highlights. Standing proud further down the Neva, the church is built upon the location where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in 1881. It’s completely different to anything else you will see in St Petersburg and reminded me of images of the iconic Kremlin in Moscow – unmistakably Russian. I’ll let the images describe it for you as I am not sure I can.
The church is now more of a museum with an amazing interior, mosaics and painting galore. It’s like walking into another world, a very religious and colourful world. Every crevasse is covered in colour… It’s a unique and unforgettable site.
Our next stop was another Church, but one of a more traditional Orthodox cathedral, and the fourth largest in the world! Its exterior is not as spectacular as the Spilled Blood but inside is grander and just as impressive. It also feels a tad more authentic than its smaller yet more colourful neighbour. One thing I really was impressed about was one of the giant cathedral doors that was incredibly decorated in bronze.
It’s here where I get back to my sense about St Petersburg, we were taken to a local restaurant that in all honesty we would have never known existed, hidden underground. The food was ok, but nothing traditional like I wanted. We were then whisked away to a shop, that again didn’t really look like a shop… again we would have never known it was there unless we were taken. This seems to be the norm around St Petersburg and maybe it’s the same around all of Russia. There’s no sense of excitement, of eye catching colour, of adventure – I recently realised that it was probably due to the old communist regime – no advertisements! I don’t know but it just felt stale…
The rest of our first day was spent seeing the place Rasputin was murdered, and a tour of a few other cultural heritage locations.
Although I found it very difficult to write this… and still am undecided about our day in St Petersburg, our next experience was truly Russian – a night at the ballet! Stay tuned…