Roger brings to you the wonderful city of St Petersburg, Russia which he visited this summer for the first time and which literally blew him away.
This special second city of Russia is situated on the Western coast of the world’s largest country. It has a population of 5 million, compared to double that figure in the capital city of Moscow and beautifully reflects many European cities within it… firstly the canals and rivers. The city of St Petersburg, alongside the main Neva river is known as the Venice of the North, with over 60 canals and over 300 bridges and the waterways are the way to get around when you visit to get the experience of the canals where the river boats narrowly pass under the many bridges leaving very little room to spare. This is also the best way to receive a commentary of the many attractive palaces, monuments, churches, buildings and much more with the best views from the waterways as you glide along the river and pass one attraction after another…
Take for example the Peter and Paul Fortress and the church within the complex where the founder of Russia, Peter the Great is buried. You get a wonderful view of the site where, in the year 1703 Russia was founded. A new country in real terms, his dream was to exceed the fashionable major European counterparts such as Paris, and create from marshes a city that would shine out as the grandest in the world, in this way St Petersburg was born. As you cruise along the waterways you see palaces and buildings and residences of the noble society in their dozens, and a medley of colours too, white, beige, green, rustic red, yellow, orange, purple, with their wonderful balconies overlooking the streets.
The city has so much space with wonderful gardens, large squares, spacious main road areas including the shopping street of the city Nevski Prospekt which is four miles long and has all the major fashion labels you could wish for along with more economical shopping malls or centres. In this area it can get very busy of course and when shopping it is useful to know that Euros and Dollars are pretty much accepted everywhere.
St Petersburg is a fantastic place to visit on a cruise, as providing you take a ship tour, as opposed to individual disembarkation, UK citizens are able to visit the country without a visa. This is not the case when you arrive by air, and the visa process back home will take both time and money. Contrast that to arriving into your Russian port where you simply need to take your passport, ship cruise card and the excursion or tour ticket to then be issued with the required immigration card the first time after arrival that you set foot on Russian soil. From here the tour coaches will be waiting with their guides to whisk you off on your booked tour of choice. Many ship itineraries include an overnight stay which is a fabulous thing to do as there is simply so much to see and in such a short period of time. Most larger ships use the terminal which is a twenty minute transfer ride to the city, although smaller ships such as Silverseas and Regent, plus of course actual river cruise ships, have their berth overnight in the very heart of the city.
Perhaps start outside the city with Peterhof, an hour’s drive away and a palace that will take your breath away. This is the equivalent to Versailles in Paris, France where opulence and the finest Society living is on display in every room and there are so many of them. The paintings on the walls, carefully embroidered ceilings and gold all around, crystal chandeliers will certainly strike you as your guide leads the group from room to room. It should be noted that it is strictly prohibited to use cameras of any kind inside the palace building. You will however wish to do so once outside the buildings and into the superb gardens all around. From Peterhof there is a small stream of water leading to the edge of the Baltic Sea visible from palace level, before taking the steps to the gardens below. You will want to see the golden images all around the main fountain, there are also two further fountains modelled on the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Always worth a visit and of course a very busy attraction for travellers and tourists alike you should allow for at least half a day to get the most from the experience both in the palace and outside in the main gardens.
The world famous Hermitage is the absolute essential in St Petersburg and no visit would be complete without it. This is the equivalent of the Louvre in Paris housing the largest collection of art and painting masterpieces anywhere in the world. Photos are permitted inside the palace where you will find a small number of pieces from Michaelangelo, Leonardo De Vinci and others. The main paintings depict the leading families and leaders of the country over several hundred years, there is the room fully dedicated and housing quality Rembrandt masterpieces, a further one with Egyptian and Roman too… touring the palace is like a journey through history. It is worth bearing in mind that due to the number of daily visitors the pace can be slow in getting around, nevertheless a visit to this huge palace, comprising various wings including the Winter Palace must be at the top of the list of things to do in St Petersburg.
Other important attractions include Catherine’s Palace, St Isaacs Cathedral (able to take up to 14,000 people at one time and the fourth highest cathedral in the world), The Church of Spilt Blood, the Admiralty, Army and Naval buildings, and the everyday life of the city. During the summer months at weekends weddings are very popular and Russian brides with their entourage and family can often be seen in numbers having their official photographs taken outside the grandest churches of the city. Guided walking tours are also a very good way to see the city as it is fairly easy to see many of the attractions in two or three hours and a city tour is the perfect way to enjoy many of the highlights of this city for those with limited mobility.
When in Russia at the world home of Ballet, an evening performance at the Ballet, such as Swan Lake or perhaps a Traditional Folklore Show, are both real favourites for visitors. Whether by day or night St Petersburg offers the finest experiences to savour and a night cruise on the Neva river, perhaps with dinner is not to be missed…
The Russian people are very proud of their heritage and the local guides do a fantastic job of passing on their areas of knowledge to the guests in a balanced way. In school they learn to smile, to be approachable to travellers, a far cry from the days of the Russian KGB Babouskas, hard looking, stern middle age often state workers who believed that until you know someone smile at no one and trust no one, often perceived in the west as frightening and unwelcoming. Today’s Russia is a land of opportunity where they say “the past is our history, the future is unknown but today is a gift.” In other words living in the now and using your talents to the best. It is a fascinating country and St Petersburg is certainly up there with the best. It seems to combine and blend many overseas architectural influences and canal experiences with the local history and country background in a spectacular way. Set as it is on many rivers, the Italian jewel Venice comes instantly to mind, or Amsterdam, the French influence and Paris is also very clear to see with its various city arches closely resembling the Arc De Triomphe, and of course there has always been a huge link with Germany and none more so than the equivalent to the Brandenburg Gate which is almost an exact replica. The centre of St Petersburg and its neighbouring area certainly has many attractions to see and a visit to this superb Russian city will leave you with lifetime memories…..
And don’t forget your travel insurance for your trip……