Sleepless in St Petersburg

Authored by:
Sarai D.

Sarai D.

After spending a month in Moscow studying and absorbing the atmosphere, it was time to be tourists again. The last weekend of September, we went to St Petersburg to see the sights! We left very late Thursday night and took the Красная стрела (Red Arrow) overnight sleeper train to arrive at 8 am on Friday. The train experience itself was so much fun (and I will admit that I love travelling by train and also tiny homes/spaces) and the accommodations and complimentary breakfast were also super nice. I didn’t manage to get any pictures, unfortunately, but it’s certainly an experience that can’t really be found anywhere else in the world.

After we checked into our hotel and freshened up a bit, we went on a bus tour around St Petersburg. The highlight of the trip was the time we spent at the Peter and Paul Fortress. We went to the cathedral where most of Russia’s tsars and tsarinas who ruled after Peter the Great are buried, as well as many other members of the Romanov imperial family (including Nicholas II’s family). The fortress, founded by Peter in 1703 also had a prison – the Trubetskoi Bastion – that held many political prisoners throughout the years, including such famous (or else infamous) names as Leon Trotsky.

On the banks of the Neva River - the golden spires in the distance are Peter and Paul Cathedral
Exterior of Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral
Interior of the cathedral
The final resting place of the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family
The iconostasis inside the cathedral

On Saturday, we finally had a chance to visit the Hermitage museum! With over 3.2 million items in collections and galleries spread over four buildings, I could have spent a week in there and not seen all there was to see. (To be fair, this is just how I am at museums in general.) 

The Winter Palace at night 
Inside the largest ballroom of the palace
The iconostasis of the imperial family's personal cathedral - note the unconventional icon placement (usually they're in neat rows) as well as the missing icons, removed for restoration and conservation
The throne room
Intricate inlaid design on the floor of the throne room - it mirrors the ceiling

These are all from the Winter Palace – we also explored some of the rest of the museum, which was mainly an art gallery. I don’t know much about art or art history, so there’s not much I can say about the exhibits, except that the collection was certainly impressive and contained many paintings by various masters, including one of the best collections of Rembrandts in the world.

While we had great weather (sunny yet chilly – my favourite) the first two days, Sunday dawned gloomy and wet. Nevertheless, we went to the summer palace of many tsars, Peterhof, to visit its expansive gardens. During the siege of Leningrad in World War II, Peterhof was occupied for three years and stripped of almost all of its former splendor, but subsequent renovations restored the grandeur of the palace.

A view of the sea channel that Peter the Great would use to get to Peterhof from St Petersburg by boat
The fountains of Peterhof are supplied by an elaborate network of pipes that use water pressure and gravity - there are no pumps used anywhere, as the water doesn't get recycled but instead flows to the Gulf of Finland
Another view of the main fountains
The Grand Cascade
One of the smaller fountains in the gardens - this one cemented the idea in my mind that a few centuries ago, Russians had no idea what dolphins looked like
The Chessboard Hill Cascade
Another view of the palace
Another impressive fountain
View from a sea overlook (on the opposite side) with the Golden Hill Cascade in the background

We took the Sapsan (high speed train) back on Sunday night. This way, it only took four hours instead of the eight that it took us to get there on the sleeper train. Going to St Petersburg was definitely an unforgettable experience and one I wouldn’t have missed for the world. That being said (and I know that I’m going to get some flak for this), by the end of the weekend I was ready to go back to Moscow. From my point of view, St Petersburg is more European in atmosphere (slower, quieter, more historical) while Moscow is more American (grittier, faster, more bustling). Maybe it’s just that Moscow has become home now.

St Isaac's Cathedral, one of the main landmarks of St Petersburg



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