By- Debbie Pozzobon
St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great, is a Disneyland with stupendous citadels and zany museums. The city which served as the regal capital for two centuries now stands as the cultural capital of Russia. The city with quirky street artists and native food stalls welcome the guests with an uncanny warmth even at frosty temperatures. Here is an account of our author and travel blogger Debbie, who was left in awe of this Sui Generis city.
The beginning of our adventure saw us travel to St. Petersburg by a luxury overnight train to reach a nearby hotel. St.Petersburg station gave us a chance to travel through some of the longest and highest escalators in the world, descending over 180m. Though not as pristine as Moscow, St Petersburg has a warmth and charm that is most welcoming.
The city of citadels!
Our first day began with a visit to the Winter Palace which forms a part of the State Hermitage Museums. The morning became more interesting when we were greeted by a bunch of hilarious Russian street artists on our way to the museum. Street artists and their off-kilter performances form an integral part of St.Petersburg culture. If you’re fond of live performances, St.Petersburg will never bore you.
”The epitome of quintessential Russian lifestyle and outlook which is especially reflected in the street food like Borscht and Shashlyk.”
The Winter Palace which sheltered the Russian Monarchs from 1731-1917 is a delight to watch. The palace stands as an unfading souvenir of the grandeur of the Russian dynasties. The prepossessing fortress cum museum baffled the guests with gigantic rooms displaying period furniture, walls hung with invaluable artworks, thrones, chandeliers and sculptures. An unforgettable experience for architecture enthusiasts and history lovers alike.
While exploring the city we took the city’s Main Street, Nevsky Prospect; lined with beautiful buildings and steeped in history. We chose to dine at local stalls relishing local cuisines like- the Beetroot soup-Borscht and found other delicacies like soups and stews-Stroganoff.We took a day trip to Peterhof Palace by the local train and then a minivan, which delivered us to the gates of the palace, exemplary in its sheer splendour and beauty. Peterhof is a series of magnificent palaces commissioned by Peter the Great; a UNESCO site and is one of the most iconic monuments of Russia. After that, we headed towards the Kronstadt Cathedral by road, a unique primary church of the navy. It housed models and artefacts of wars and the walls were filled with tributes to the fallen sailors. A poignant experience!
”The Church of the Savior of the Spilled Blood has the largest and most intricate mosaic in the entire world.”
The second of our day trip took us to the ancient city of Veliky Novgorod by road, which is a common picnic spot for the locals too. (P.S. avoid weekends). Apart from the ancient Kremlin walls, the city houses a unique bird sanctuary which shelters rescued and abused birds. Bird lovers must make a stop here. Then we came across a local village market with stalls lined up and loaded dew-fresh rural products- honey and bees, and a range of Russian Kebabs (Shashlyk) with an array of Russian country wines.
After a hearty lunch, a short tree-lined walk took us to Vitoslavlitsky – an open-air museum of old Slavic wooden architecture, which was like time-travel. The entire complex is made of wood, taking us back to a centuries-old Russian village. However, unlike other museums, Vitoslavlitsky was ‘alive’ with people dressed in period costumes, playing old games, singing, dancing and enjoying the beautiful day with their families!
Our next halt was Peter and Paul Cathedral within the Peter and Paul fortress. The church has one of the tallest orthodox bell towers in the world. The cathedral is also the resting place for many Russian royals. The cathedral is an interesting mix of culture, history and architecture.After that, we visited the ‘mouth-watering’ (literally) Vodka Museum. Vodka is one of the best gifts by Russia to the world and it was indeed the ‘best’ museums out there. Our last but one stop was the famous Faberge museum. The museum contains more than 4000 works of decorative and applied arts including the royal ‘gift eggs’. A paradise for novice and ace artists around the world. Our last stop was the iconic Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This is a magnificent Baroque and Neoclassical style cathedral that houses the shrine of Alexander III. The church is erected on the spot where he was assassinated in 1855. The church walls are adorned with precious mosaic stones which makes it stand apart. The entire inside and outside of the church are covered with the most wondrous mosaics – the largest and most intricate in the world. And here, we bid adieu to this glorious and ‘warm’ city.
So many cities – so little time, and of course, not enough money! Russia is a vast country, and we merely scraped the surface in this, the first of hopefully, many visits. I am left speechless at the sheer magnitude of all that we saw. It was not what I expected. It was anything but dull, grey and somewhat austere. On the contrary – we were blown away by the splendour of the architecture, the art; the historic wealth and sometimes the sheer size of the palaces and cathedrals that we visited. I am in awe – indeed I am in love with Russia!