St Petersburg, the great northern city is one of my favourite cities along with Dubrovnik although they are quite different. Dubrovnik has its superb scenery, old town and weather. St Petersburg is rather more busy that Dubrovnik but much less so than Moscow. St Petersburg built during the reign of Peter I (Peter the Great) who in attempt to modernise (read Europeanise) Russia brought in respected architects across Europe. St Petersburg does have a European flavour but it is also definitely Russian and its uniqueness part of the appeal.
It has many famous museums including the Hermitage part of the beautiful Winter Palace. So is the setting, many canals, bridges and photogenic views such as the view of Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (officially cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ) being particularly beautiful. I had almost missed this city. It wasn’t on my initial itinerary, in fact not until quite late. How stupid a decision that would have been!
I was lucky that I was going during the white nights. When due to its very northerly position the city it is as if the sun never fully sets and the city is never really dark.
On my first day in St Petersburg (having arrived overnight from Moscow) I stayed in the excellent Apple Hostel. A unique and high quality like Hostel Mostel in Veliko Tarnovo. It was not as spacious as Hostel Mostel but it was clean and had a great atmosphere in small part due to the excellent receptionists / administrators. When I arrived, the receptionist Kseniya gave a fairly detailed description of how to get around the city. I went to explore by going along Nevsky prospect where first I passed the beautiful church of Christ the Saviour on Spilled Blood. I say a beautiful church, but it has not been re-consecrated since its restoration after the usual neglect by the hands of soviets. The Church of the Resurrection gets its nickname (On Spilled Blood) as it was built in the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by political activists.
I spotted an Armenian church. I took a look inside and also surprised one of the staff in the shop by saying a few phrases in my fading Armenian. I continued onto the beautiful winter palace and across the river where I went to St Peters and Pauls Fortress. Like several churches in St Petersburg it is much more a museum and for such did not appeal to me. There rests the remains of Saint Tsar Nicolas II the passion bearer and his family. All the relics were cordoned off when I visited. Inside the ‘church’ I didn’t even know whether to cross myself when entering, is buried most of the Tsars from Peter I also known as Peter the Great).
St Petersburg has trams and buses but it is really a city for extensive walking and comfortable shoes. it is where you will experience the best views and so. There are many Orthodox churches and also an architecturally attractive mosque that looks a little similar to the more famous counterpart in Uzbekistan. The metro also has some attractive stations although perhaps not quite at the beauty of Moscow.
A rare occasion of where the city is eclipsed by its far less attractive but more politically important rival.
St Petersburg, Moscow and Literature
St Petersburg was for over 200 hundred years the capital of the Russian empire before losing its status to Moscow and online I read a quote by Dovlatoov
This combination of inferiority and superiority gives the city a very caustic character
some quotes say a sarcastic gentlemen. I do not know which is more accurate.
The city also features in a Pushkin masterpiece the Bronze horeseman in which the once almost uninhabited marshy places populated only sparsely but a few dark houses of ‘miserable’ Finnish fisherman is made into a city by the ambitious Peter I (Peter the Great) whose ambition to subdue the Swedes . However its harsh weather, susceptibility to floods etc overwhelm the city and when it causes the death of Yevgeny’s wife he blames the bronze statue (representing Peter the Great) and when he threatens the statue it comes to life and chases him. The poem ends with Yevgeny’s body found floating in a ruined hut.
St Petersburg is also connected strongly with another literary heavyweight – Dostoevsky and there is a museum dedicated to him in the city.
On my second day in St Petersburg, I met a Russian I had met via Interpals.
She showed me Peterhof. A beautiful palace-garden complex. The grounds are wonderfully beautiful and we enjoyed walking the grounds. I then made the wrong decision of suggestion to take the Peterhof express, with neither of us knowing we were going.
While I enjoyed the boat ride , the boat itself is more geared for being inside. Where it is densely packed and it is often far from the sure so great views are really limited. It takes you across to the Winter Palace albeit it at a hefty charge.
Having arrived across we went somewhere to eat before walking around again and ascending St Isaac’s Cathedral, where there is a beautiful 360 degree view over the city. It is a great place to be and we spent plenty of time admiring the view before walking and we found a nice place to eat with Russian food where we had dinner.
For my last and final day in St Petersburg, far too short, I walked the length of Nevsky Prospect, stopping to admire architecture at various points I went to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery where I paid homage to the patron saint of my spiritual father and Priest. Later I walked got slightly off target (which the metro corrected) and then bought an obligatory matryoshka doll.
In the late afternoon I met my kind friend Gulnara, and perhaps the most fashionable person I know.
We walked along Furshtatskaya where we later ate in a nice place. Saw both the summer and Tavrichecskii gardens.
St Petersburg, never matter how beautiful it is, is not a perfect city having got an unenviable reputation for neo Nazi hate crimes.
I am sure they exist and it is a problem and some vigilance is in order.. My host from Estonia wrote to me concerned after she had read of an attack on a blog. But St Petersburg is a multi ethnic city.
And the western media’s usual way of paining the image of a lawless city where the ethnic minority is sure to be either beaten or murdered by the Nazis and if not then by the police or the unfriendly people is utter fabrication. And I wonder what motive is behind this. To quote (although not on hate crime)
I cleared customs and met Sergei in person for the first time. He was very friendly, but I was scared for my life. (You see I read a load of BULL from the U.S. State Dept, which said that in Russia, Americans are frequently kidnapped and held for ransom, murdered for political statements, and other horrible things of that nature.)
I had an image before of a neo-Nazi filled city with gangs of teens seeking out a foreigner, combined with muggers and if they don’t get you, then the police will etc.
In fact as far as I can remember I only came cross helpful and friendly Russians in my interaction there. Some of whom (like my experience in Moscow too) went out their way to assist me.
Late that night at 23:55 if I remember correctly I took the overnight bus to Estonia. It began to rain, I was fortunate to have all good weather while travelling in the city.
As for my journey I had to endure a backward border guard but had an otherwise smooth but sleep depriving trip to Estonia.
As for St Petersburg, I hope to be back.