Sunday, September 2, 2018

Five Days in St. Petersburg.

Image from The Telegraph (Telegraph Travel)

f all the places in Russia that I am looking forward to visiting, St. Petersburg tops the list.  I have been wanting to come visit this historic city for as long as I can remember and believe it or not, I had a chance to come to Saint Petersburg back in 1996 when I came to Moscow for a work assignment.  It would've been very easy for me to extend my stay to include a few days in Saint Petersburg.  But just about a day after arriving into Moscow, I came down with a bad stomach flu and while I was able to fight through it to do my work, it pretty much took all the desire out of me to travel to Saint Petersburg.  I have regretted that decision ever since so the five days that we will be there will be five days of dreams come true for me.  And I'm going to savor every single minute of it!

The city is filled with historic sites galore and I know my head will be spinning with all the magnificent Russian art and architecture all around me.  I know my jaw will be pretty much dropping to the floor at each and every glorious sight.  No doubt, the tsars and tsarinas of Russian days gone by knew how to spend their fortunes and we are lucky to be beneficiaries of their royal lifestyle.  I cannot wait to soak in all the opulence and grandeur!  I just hope 5 days is enough time!

Before we begin our sightseeing time in St. Petersburg, one of the things we will have to decide on is whether or not to buy a St. Petersburg Card is which offers either free entrance to or discounted entry to museums, a fare card for use on the city's public transportation system and as well as several free tour options including the hop on, hop off bus and river boat cruises.  We do have to be careful to note that some of the offers are only going to be valid through September and our time in St. Petersburg begins in October.

Here are the highlights of the places that I hope we will be able to see in Saint Petersburg.

The Leonardo da Vinci Room at the Hermitage. 
(Photo by Chatsam.  Licensed under CC by SA 3.0)
The Hermitage  I don't think there would be much argument from anyone that one of THE highlights of this city of countless highlights, the famed State Hermitage Museum which is simply known around the world as the Hermitage.  After the Louvre in Paris, France, the Hermitage is the second largest art museum in the world.  The museum's collection contains pieces of work from all the famed European masters - Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh as well as two works from Leonardo da Vinci.

The museum also has a collection focused on ancient Greece and Egypt as well as art from Asia and Asia Minor.  Most people seem to recommend skipping these collections if you are short on time.  I think the British Museum probably has better collections and I've see those.

The Hermitage was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky.  Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items and occupy a large complex of six historic buildings and gardens along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors.

Of the six buildings in the main museum complex, five—namely the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre—are open to the public.  Of special note also is the Treasury Gallery which is a repository of the museum's magnificent jewelry collection.  Comprised of the Gold Room and the Diamond Room, the Treasure Gallery houses many of the impressive jewelry pieces that belonged to the Romanov Royal Family.  The collection dates back to Peter the Great and was expanded during the reign of Peter's niece Anna and later on, Peter's daughter Elizabeth.  But it wasn't until the arrival of Catherine the Great that the collection obtained its rarest and most prized pieces.

From what I have read, the only way to visit the Treasure Gallery is on a conducted tour so I am going to look for one!  We can't miss this!

Like the Louvre, you could probably spend a whole year wandering about the Hermitage and still not see it all so we will have to cherry pick what see.  Thankfully, there are many recommendations on the web.  I've printed out a bunch of articles for us to read and to strategize how we will go about our visit.

By pretty much all accounts that I have read, the recommendation is to buy your entrance tickets on line rather than have to endure a long queue waiting to buy tickets.  So that's what we'll be doing.  Apparently,  online ticket holders also get to enter by a different entrance.  I am anticipating a long line!

Hours:  Closed Monday. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday: 10.30am - 06:00pm; Wednesday, Friday: 10.30am -21:00pm

We arrive into St. Petersburg just around lunchtime on Sunday and will have to decide whether we visit the museum on Sunday (we'll have about 6 hours) or to visit on Tuesday.

Sculptures on the Grand Cascade, Peterhof
(Photo by Alex “Florstein” Fedorov.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)
The word Peterhof translates to "Peter's Court".  It is an enormous complex of created by order of Peter the Great who was inspired by the grandest of all palaces, Versailles, to build his own imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city.  After an aborted attempt at Strelna, Peterhof  became the site for the tsar's Monplaisir Palace, and then of the original Grand Palace. The estate was equally popular with Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and greatly extended the park and the famous system of fountains, including the truly spectacular Grand Cascade.

Improvements to the park continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Catherine the Great, after leaving her own mark on the park, moved the court to Pushkin, but Peterhof once again became the official Imperial Residence in the reign of Nicholas I, who ordered the building of the modest Cottage Palace in 1826.

Up until the Revolution of 1917, Peterhof was the residence of the Tsars. In 1918 it was transformed into a museum, though during World War II it was occupied and destroyed by German troops. After World War II it began its restoration, which still continues.

At the heart of the complex stands the opulent Baroque style Grand Palace surrounded by gardens and fountains.  The Grand Palace was the former summer palace of the tsars.  Behind the Grand Palace is the Great Cascade, which extends from the north facade of the Grand Palace to the marina channel comprising of 64 different fountains and over 200 bronze statues!

Peterhof is home to several smaller palaces as well as churches and museums.  There are also two parks.  Upper park is located at the complex's entrance and consists of five fountains.  It's free to visit.  Lower Park is the more spectacular of the two as it has fountains as well as waterfalls.  There is an entrance fee.

To say that this place is enormous is actually a huge understatement.  Again, there is no way we can see everything so we will have to come up with a strategy for our visit so we don't miss out on the important stuff or waste time on things that are not the main highlights.

As with The Hermitage, it's recommended that you buy your tickets on line and it is also closed on Monday so we will have to make a decision on when to come here.

Peterhof is situated on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, located about 30 kilometers west of St. Petersburg.  The fastest way to get to Peterhof is by hydrofoil, that crosses the Gulf of Finland from the Hermitage at the Palace Embankment to Peterhof Pier in half an hour. The hydrofoil companies are not assotiated with Peterhof State Museum-Reserve and do not sell tickets to its facilities. The most picturesque way to Peterhof is by train, It takes 36 minutes to get from the Baltic Railway Station to the "New Peterhof" Station.

Lastly, you can take buses.  City buses № 344, 348, 350, 351, 352 or 355 will bring you from the station to the Upper Garden in 15 minutes. A common way to get to Peterhof is to take a minibus № 224, 300 or 424 from "Avtovo" metro station.

I think what I would like to do is to take the train one way and the hydrofoil the other.  Skip the bus.

Hours:  For the complete list of visiting hours, we are referring this PDF file on the museum's website which presents the visiting hours from Septembe 1- October 14 which coincides with our time in St. Petersburg.  The Grand Palace, which we want to visit, is closed on Monday.   Its visiting hours are Tuesday - Friday, Sunda 10:30am to 07:00pm;  Saturday10:30am - 09:00pm.

Interior of Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  (Photo by Richard Mortel. Licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the most iconic landmarks in St. Petersburg.  The Church of the Resurrection, also known as the "Savior on Spilled Blood", was built by his son, Alexander II, in memory of his father, Alexander II, who was assassinated in 1881. The church stands in the very place where a bomb was thrown into his carriage by a young man who opposed the tsar's reforms.

Alexander II is among the greatest Russian tsars, one of his main accomplishments was the emancipation of serfs in 1861, which brought an end to the de facto slavery of the Russian peasantry, five years before the emancipation of slaves in the US.

Alexander III deliberately had this church built in "traditional Russian" style - in distinction to what he saw as the contaminating Western influence of Petersburg. Its peculiar multicolored exterior and five onion-domes are exuberantly decorated and covered in jeweler's enamel and it has a similar façade to St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. It truly does stand out!

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood took 24 years to construct and, after early Soviet vandalism, 27 years to restore.

The highlight of both the interior and exterior of the Cathedral are its mosaic collection, one of the largest in the world, based on the paintings of Vasnetsov, Nesterol, and Vrubel. With a total area of 23130 square feet, it is one of the largest mosaic collections in Europe.

The Cathedral is decorated with Italian limestone and various semiprecious stones like jasper, mountain crystal, topaz, and others. On the outside, there are twenty granite plates which tell the most important events of Alexander II's reign.

I know I will be gasping in awe the entire time I will be in the church and at some point, I will have to retrieve my jaw from the floor! 😁

Restoration was once funded by St. Isaac's Cathedral.  Today, both places fall under the auspices of The Museum Complex The State Museum St Isaac’s Cathedral. St. Isaac's is also on my list of must see places in St. Petersburg.

We might just have to visit both churches on the Sunday afternoon that we arrive into St. Petersburg.

Hours:  Closed Wednesday.  Daily 10.30 am to 6 pm.
There is a small admission fee of 250 rubles for adults.  The audio guide (in Russian, English, German, French, Italian or Spanish) costs 100 rubles.

St Isaac's Cathedral
I'll just let the panoramic photo of the interior show you why we have to come here.

Photo by Ximeg.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Okay, now the history. St. Isaac's Cathedral was originally the city's main church and the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Russia.

Construction on St. Isaac's Cathedral was begun in 1818 by Emperor Alexander I, and completed in 1858 by his younger brother, Emperor Nicholas I. The church is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, the patron saint of Peter the Great. It served as a church only up until 1928 when it was officially designated a museum. Currently, church services are held in only one of the cathedral's chapels, while the main altar has been used for church services only on major religious holidays.  But things might change in 2019 as the Church will officially be handed back over to the Russian Orthodox Church.  Hopefully, visitors will still be allowed but perhaps visit times will be scaled back and perhaps even suspended on days and times when religious services will be held.

As it is part of the same museum complex as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, its admission times and fees are the same.

Hours:  Closed Wednesday.  Daily 10.30 am to 6 pm.
There is a small admission fee of 250 rubles for adults.  The audio guide (in Russian, English, German, French, Italian or Spanish) costs 100 rubles.

Kazan Cathedral
Photo by Алексеев Игорь Евгеньевич. Licensed under Public Domain
Kazan Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, is Russian Orthodox Church dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan, probably the most venerated icon in Russia.

Construction of the cathedral started in 1801 and was completed in 1811.

The architect Andrey Voronikhin modelled the building after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and it was not without controversy as many in the Russian Orthodox Church strongly disapproved of the plans to create a replica of a Catholic basilica in Russia's then capital.

The cathedral's interior, which most certainly looks like many a cathedral that I have stepped foot inside in Europe, features its numerous columns, sculptures and icons created by the best Russian artists of the day.

The cathedral is open daily from 7am to 6pm and is located very close to our Airbnb apartment so we can stop by at any time.  I'm thinking that since the major museums are closed on Monday, that we might just spend the time visiting three very famous churches in St. Petersburg.

Sennoy Market. (Photo by Admiral_Kolchak at
The Markets - Sennoy and Kuznechny
I love visiting markets.  Perhaps that's one reason why I prefer staying in apartments when I travel.  We might have to cook a meal or two *at home* so we need to get ingredients.  Such will be the case in St. Petersburg.  Our Airbnb just so happens to be nearby two of the cities markets - Kuznechny and Sennoy.

By pretty much all accounts, Kuznechny is housed in a lovely old building that is full of charm.  Inside, there are vendors selling fresh products as well as a few souvenir stalls.  Things are pricey and vendors not so nice.  I'm guessing this might be the place for tourists.

On the other hand, there's Sennoy.  Atmosphere not so lovely but it seems like this is more the place that locals come to do their shopping.  Sennoy Market is one of the oldest in Saint Petersburg, and dates back to the 18th century, when hay and straw was traded here.

If you were to ask me to pick which of the two places to come to, it would be Sennoy and I think Chantale would agree as we both would gladly trade pretty building for interesting local life.  From the pictures I've seen  of what is sold at Sennoy, it reminds me a lot of what I saw in the central market in Riga - lots of fresh veggies and fruits smoked meats, smoked fish, pickled veggies, cheese etc.  When we were in Riga, it was about a month earlier and there were plenty of wild mushrooms and berries for sale.  We'll be in St. Petersburg at the very tail end of summer so I'm hoping we'll still have summer produce to buy.  Those Latvian mushrooms and berries were to die for!

In both markets, you have to haggle which might be a bit tricky for us since we really don't know what prices ought to be so we'll just have to pay what we think is reasonable which is usually what the price is compared to what we would have to pay for the same item at home.  Hopefully, food is much cheaper in Russia than in the US!

Both markets will be open on Sunday until 6:00pm and both are easily accessible by subway so I'm thinking we can visit a cathedral or two and then head to the market to stock up on some supplies.  By the time we reach St. Petersburg, I'll think we'll be ready for a home cooked meal or two....or at least some nice fresh fruits!

One reviewer on TripAdvisor did note that the vendors at Kuznechny did not appreciate having their photos taken but as a general rule, you should always ask people first unless you are taken their photo as part of larger composition which is what I very often do.  Also, there were quite a few warnings about pick pockets.  We will have to be very mindful of securing our backpacks.

Hours: 8am to 6pm; Kuznechny closed on Monday
Metro Stations: Sennaya Ploshchad  (Sennoy); Vladimirskaya / Dostoevskaya (Kuznechny)

Eliseyev Emporium, St. Petersburg
(Photo by Txllxt TxllxT. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)
Eliseyev Emporium
Whether we ulimately end up buying anything or not at this place is irrelevant.  There is no way that we will be St. Petersburg and not step inside this world famous food emporium, especially considering that it is literally stone's throw from our apartment.  Perhaps, we might splurge on some caviar.  Not a very politically correct or environmentally friendly thing to do these days but just a small bit.  I've not had real sturgeon caviar for 20+ years so we find something in the *affordable* price range, we might just go for it!  Or more affordable perhaps, we can come here for tea!

I already did a write up on the history of the emporium on my Moscow posting. In Moscow, the store is known as Eliseevsky Emporium.  This location, in St Petersburg, is the flagship building and is called Eliseyev Emporium.  Apparently, the same family....but for some reason, different spellings of the name.  The family prefers Elisseeff. I'm guessing the differences are simply a result of transliteration from Russian to English.

From all accounts, it's quite something to just look at the building - both inside and out.

Bay Tree Imperial Easter Egg

The Fabergé Museum is another place I really, really want to go to because I have always been obsessed with the exquisite Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs.  We have a few in the US and I have been fortunate enough to see the ones in the Russian collection at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which was the former residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post who amassed her collection while married to the second US Ambassador to the Soviet Union back in the 1930's.  The Richmond Art Museum has the largest Fabergé and Russian decorative arts in the US - they have five Imperial Easter eggs in there collection.  But....there is no way that I will come to the home land of Peter Carl Fabergé and not see a larger collection of his magnificent works of art.

The Fabergé Museum is a privately-owned museum which was established by Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg,  and his Link of Times foundation in order to repatriate lost cultural valuables to Russia. The museum's collection contains more than the world's largest collection of works by Peter Carl Fabergé as well as decorative and applied works made by the Russian masters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In all the museum's collection numbers about 4,000 items.

A highlight of the museum's collection is the group of nine Imperial Easter eggs created by Fabergé for the last two Russian Tsars - Emperors Alexander III and Nicolas II. The eggs were bought by Vekselberg in 2004 from the family of the American newspaper magnate Malcolm Forbes. He purchased them just before they came up for auction, paying $100 million for the Forbes family's entire Fabergé collection. In doing so, he kept the collection intact. Otherwise, the eggs would have most likely been purchased by several different buyers.

The nine Imperial Easter Eggs that are in the museum's collection are:

First Hen egg
Renaissance egg
Rosebud egg
Coronation egg
Lilies of the Valley egg
Cockerel egg
Fifteenth Anniversary egg
Bay Tree egg
Order of St. George egg

I think my favorite is the Bay Tree egg which was presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna on Easter 1911. The composition of base of the egg is an evergreen laurel. The upper part of the tree’s crown contains an opening for a key and a tiny lever, which, when pressed, releases a cover hidden by the leaves on the tree. A bird with iridescent feathers appears from inside the tree, and begins to sing. When the singing ends, the bird disappears. The leaves of the tree crown, shaped somewhat like an egg, are made of Sayan jade. The bright leaves are covered with amethysts, citrines, and pink diamonds, as well as small white enamel flowers. The tree is planted in a pot of white Mexican onyx, draped with golden trellis netting and hanging enamel garlands. WOW!! I get goose pimples just reading the description. I can't wait to see this thing for real!

In 2006, the Link of Times foundation began restoring the 18th-century Shuvalov Palace in St. Petersburg, with the goal of opening the museum in the palace. A significant amount of work was done over seven years to recreate the historical appearance of the palace. This was the first full-fledged restoration of the palace in its entire 200-year history. The official opening ceremony of the Fabergé Museum took place on 19 November 2013.

Hours:  Saturday Through Monday 10am to 9pm, closed Friday.
Admission:  600  rubles for guided tour, 450 rubles for unguided tour.
Metro Station: Gostiny Dvor

Peter and Paul Fortress

Aerial view of Peter and Paul Fortress
(Photo by Andrew Shiva. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Peter and Paul Fortress is the original citadel of St. Petersburg, Russia, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and built to Domenico Trezzini's designs from 1706 to 1740 as a star fortress.  The citadel, which is situated on Hare Island in the middle of the Neva River, was the first structure to be built in St. Petersburg, and thus the birthplace of the city.  However, it never served its intended defensive function. Instead it has had a rich, hugely varied, and sometimes sinister history as a military base, a home of government departments, the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, the site of groundbreaking scientific experiments, and a forbidding jail that held some of Russia's most prominent political prisoners.

The fortress contains several notable buildings clustered around the Peter and Paul Cathedral (1712–1733), which has a 122.5 m (402 ft) bell-tower (the tallest in the city center) and a gilded angel-topped cupola.

The cathedral is the burial place of all Russian tsars from Peter I to Alexander III, with the exception of Peter II and Ivan VI. The remains of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, and his family were re-interred here, in the side chapel of St. Catherine, on July 17, 1998, the 80th anniversary of their deaths at the hands of their Bolshevik guards.

Other structures inside the fortress include the still functioning Saint Petersburg Mint building, the Trubetskoy Bastion with its grim prison cells, and the city museum. According to a centuries-old tradition, a cannon is fired each noon from the Naryshkin Bastion.

The fortress walls overlook sandy beaches that have become among the most popular in St. Petersburg. In summer, the beach is often overcrowded, especially when a major sand festival takes place on the shore.

Today, the fortress falls under the auspices of The Musuem of the History of St Petersburg.

Hours:  10am to 7pm daily except the Prison of the Trubetskoy Bastion which is closed on Wednesday
Admission: Individual tickets are needed for each of the fortress’s attractions – though a combined entrance ticket, costing 600 rubles, gives access to Peter & Paul Cathedral, the Trubetskoy Bastion and three other sites.
Metro Station:  Sportivnaya and then walk across the Kronwerk Bridge

Short history of the fortress -

Okay, this is a long enough post so I'm going to end it here but by no means have I written abut all of the places that I want to visit in St. Petersburg.  My list of places is far longer.  You can check them out on the Google map below.  To view the legend, click on the box icon on the upper right hand corner of the map to view the larger map.  The legend is useful because I've used colored icons to identify individual places - easier to figure what is what when you do that.

I am now off to do my final bit of getting ready for this trip.  In a few short days, our epic trip will begin!!