St. Petersburg, Russia 2016

Via a Baltic Cruise on the Crystal Symphony, I arrive with my friend Jane to the incredible historical city of St. Petersburg, Russia for the next 3 days. I had made private tour arrangements with Ulko Tours. You can find them at https://www.ulkotours.com/ Very professional, very timely, and very informative tour guide in a private van was reasonably priced at about $850 USD per person. This included all of our visas, transportation, all entrances to entrance fee locations, a private evening concert, and daily water bottles. Lunches were on our own, including the lunch for the tour guide. Oh my, where to begin!

We are met right outside immigration by our tour guide Margarita and our driver Edward (same name) and off we go to our first stop at the Birzhevoy Promenade at the Neva River to see the famous buildings across the river like the Hermitage Museum, Peter and Paul Fortress, and Marble Palace. Nice to see places that are going to be included in our 3 days of touring the city. Yes, we are finally here in Russia! However, I truly believe that this part of Russia is not like most of Russia with its cosmopolitan look, St. Petersburg has had its share of history. Originally founded in 1703 by the Tsar Peter the Great, it names changed several times, from the original Petrograd and then even Leningrad for a while; sits on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. Being the 2nd most populous city in Russia, it serves as the place for some federal government agencies but its historical significance is of utmost importance. We plan to see many of those places over our 3 days, so let us begin!

Our first quick stop is at a major food market, the Kuznechny Market with an unbelievable selection of meats, cheeses, honeys, fresh produce, everything was in plenty of abundance here!

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood aka The Church of Resurrection becomes a must see and our next stop in St. Petersburg. Built in 1881 in his memory and on the exact spot where the Tsar Alexander II was killed by a bomb thrown into his carriage. It features five onion shaped domes with incredible mosaic tiles used for all the interior artwork. Taking 24 years to construct and then another 27 years to repair after early Soviet damage, it was officially reopened in 1991 the same year as the fall of the Soviet Union. It was awe inspiring to see the amount of details in the craftsmanship in this place!

Our next must stop is at the St. Isaac’s Cathedral which was built in 1858 as a Roman Catholic Church and since 1931 a museum. It’s fabulous architecture and large dome 333 feet high, with the use of precious stones like malachite and lazurite make it a sight to behold!

Our final stop of the day is the world famous Hermitage Museum along the banks of the Neva River. Considered to be the 2nd largest art museum in the world, it was commissioned by Catherine the Great and opened to the public in 1852. The whole complex consists of 6 buildings including the Hermitage Theater where we will see the Russian Swan Ballet performance the next evening.

Our 2nd day starts out with a 30 km drive to the south of St. Petersburg, to the town of Pushkin. Here Catherine I built her famous summer palace in 1717 that encompasses over 1400 acres and the flamboyant main building stretches over 1000 feet long! Over 100 kilograms of gold were used to adorn the various light fixtures and is seen throughout the palace. It is royal wealth magnified!

Now it is lunch time and we go to a country restaurant completely constructed from wooden logs and wooden planks, called the Podvorye Restaurant. Built in 1993, it is considered one of the most authentic Russian restaurants in the St. Petersburg area and we were not disappointed with the ambiance, the entertainment, and the large brown bear in the middle of the restaurant!

It is time for our boat ride on the Neva River to see things from a different perspective. We were guided on our own private boat, this 3 day tour just keeps getting better and better! Remember www.ulkotours.com is the company to use for private tours in St. Petersburg.

We are dropped off at the next best place to be, the Peter and Paul Cathedral on the other side of the Neva River on Hare Island as a part of the Peter and Paul Fortress. This is a Russian Orthodox Cathedral was built in 1733 under Peter the Great. It houses many of the tombs of the remains of the Russian Emperors and Empresses, including Catherine the Great.

Our final day starts with a little side trip to take the St. Petersburg Subway for a one station ride, is the highlight of my day. I feel like I am in another museum as we enter the underground station that is adorned with plenty of beautiful lighting, architecture, sculptures, and of course many murals that incorporate the Russian Sickle and Hammer, the symbol of Russia!

One of the last big sights to see is the famous Peterhof Palace, the most extravagant of all the Palaces in Russia. Designed to imitate the Palace of Versailles, Peter the Great wanted a place in Russia that could be its competitor, therefore aka as the Russian Versailles. The best feature of this Palace is the incredible grounds on the backside that features fountains and more fountains. Every hour the magic of those gardens comes to life with a musical water show that you must see! I tried to capture the event from the photos below, but I think this video here gives you a better idea of how spectacular this is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjInJKmq5iw These are considered the main fountains, but take the time to walk around and see so many others scattered around the Palace grounds.

Now how do we get back to the city? In a hydrofoil of course! A quick 15 minutes trip across the waters we are back in St. Petersburg from the Peterhof Palace.

We finish our 3 days in St. Petersburg with a visit to the Minsk Palace located right on the Neva River. We had been here the evening before because we were treated to a private dinner and champagne classical concert in the concert hall! This was compliments of the travel agency group Virtuoso that Jane was a member. Wow what a treat!

Some much to see, but I think we did it in the 3 days we spent in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was whirlwind tour, but well worth the time, effort, and the money!


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