Russian Travels Week 1: Saint Petersburg Part 2

We last left off at the conclusion of the first few days in Saint Petersburg. Many years ago my parents studied at St. Peter as two very young adults (teenagers maybe?) and they were both eager to see how the city of gold changed since. My dad is also an avid lover of sight-seeing, so we all knew we were in for hours upon hours of walking and exploring.

The Hermitage

St. Peter is filled with hidden gems among the famous ones, and we really had to pick and choose with the limited time we had. Up first was perhaps the most famous sight of the bunch- The Hermitage.

Tucked away on the shores of the river among modern day homes and shops, this mint green beauty was the winter palace of the Tsars.

Stepping inside, you immediately understand the wealth and adornment that Russian royalty experienced.

Dripping in gold gold gold.

Most of the Hermitage’s interior is restored and the damage caused during the violence of WWII was reversed.

You wouldn’t know it while strolling down the adorned halls, though – everything looked clean and perfect.

The Hermitage is huge. One of the tour guides mentioned that if you spent 1 minute looking at every painting/statue/sight, it would take you 11 years to get through the entire museum. Insanity! Even with a map we got lost multiple times.

 The aging walls are filled with paintings, some unknown and others famous:

DaVinci’s Madonna and Child

We also gazed upon famous statues:

Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy

We had a great time wandering through the maze of art and history.

(sisterly bonding)

My dad, a history fanatic, was in heaven:

Can’t you tell?

I could show you photos of the Hermitage all day, but this photo sums it up pretty well:

Pure ornateness

After hours upon hours of walking, we called it quits for the day and hobbled to our next destination.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

After our adventure at the Hermitage, we decided to finish off the long day with a quick visit to a beautiful church.

The church was built on the site were Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.

We spent an hour walking through the church/museum appreciating the incredible restoration that took place there. Our tour guide was Russian and spoke quickly, so I didn’t quite capture all the details/history (I still speak and understand Russian quite well though). And thus concludes our touristy day!

Peterhof

Despite spending hours on our feet the previous day, we set off to spend the day at the summer palace of the Tsars – Peterhof (sometimes known as Petergof). Two words come to mind when describing this golden and lusciously green palace – sheer beauty.

Peterhof is known for its extraordinary lower garden and incredible fountains. The weather was perfect for exploring these palace gardens.

(Grand Cascade)

Beautiful! Peterhof is sometimes known as the Russian Versailles due to its striking similarity to the French palace. In fact, Peter the Great purposely built his summer home in the French style.

 We spent a few hours walking from fountain to fountain, enjoying the warm weather and fresh air.

(trick fountains – the water goes off whenever someone steps near the bench)

(sun fountain – drunk on sunshine and water)

One of the only family photos we took the entire trip! Sunglasses overload…

Although most of the Peterhof fountains have been restored, it’s still incredible to think how advanced these unique fountains were during their time (1700 & 1800s).

(family bonding time)

After our stroll in the park, we headed into the actual palace for a tour. Unfortunately, photographs weren’t permitted but I did manage to sneak this photo thanks to my iPhone:

We had to wear little scrubs on our shoes to protect the floor.

The interior was even more ornate than the Hermitage. Gold gold gold everywhere! During the German invasion, the entire palace was burned to its core. The soldiers stripped the palace rooms of their treasures. It took many years to restore Peterhof, but the final results are breathtaking.

After the hour-long tour, we headed back outdoors to visit the (significantly smaller) upper garden.

(green tunnel)

(I’ve always wanted to take a photo like this!)

Eventually, we said our final goodbyes to the stunning summer palace and headed home. Thank goodness I wore my Converses because my feet were exhausted!

The trip home took a bit of time…

…since we took the metro.

(old-fashioned metro where the track is hidden – much safer!)

The metro in Saint Petersburg is very deep underground and it literally takes a few minutes to get down!

(Sasha happily carrying a box of desserts for dinner)

It was a busy day but one that will remain in my memories forever. I spent much of the day feeling immensely proud of my Russian roots. My country is beautiful and resilient, and my heart swells with joy.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral

Thanks to our sore feet and aching muscles, we unanimously decided to take it easy the next day and visit local churches/sights. We had two goals to accomplish that day: visit the small gold & diamond museum in the Hermitage and go to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

After a quick tour through both the gold and the diamond museums (no photos were allowed!), we set off to St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

The interior was quite pretty…

…but the peak was where the real fun was at! Our climb to the top was tiring, but oh so worth it!

Check out the sights!

We had a 360º view of the golden tops of the city.

Funny story – we (read: I) thought our mom had already gone back down and so we followed suite. After waiting for 30 minutes (we weren’t allowed to go back up), the people had to make an announcement to everyone searching for my mom. Ha! A good end to the night nonetheless.

Bus Tour & Catherine Palace

By the time the second-to-last day in Saint Petersburg rolled around, we were absolutely exhausted. However, my dad insisted on seeing one last site – the Amber Room at Catherine Palace. My sister felt congested and decided to skip out on the hour-long commute to the palace, but the ladies of the family did partake in a quick bus tour of the city beforehand. It was nice not walking around for once. The comforts of the bus were a good break for my feet! The tour did have a few stops at noteworthy sites such as this Bolshevik ship:

Here, my sis and I both bought these antique-looking necklaces:

Love!

After the bus tour, my sister headed home while my mom and I set out to Catherine Palace (my dad had already made it there before us).

More gold everywhere!

(we once again had to wear scrubs to protect the floors)

We took a quick tour of the interior, where my mom proclaimed that this was her favorite palace because of its incredible decorations.

Can’t you totally picture Catherine the Great standing there among the walls saturated in gold? Amazing.

(I love elaborately painted ceilings)

The Amber Room – aka my dad’s dream – was stunning! No photos/videos were permitted though. A quick history: the Amber Room is literally a room whose walls are made with real amber. During the war, the amber panels were all stolen, never to be seen again. Eventually, the room was restored based on old blueprints and photos. The original wall panels have yet to be found – their disappearance is still a mystery!

And so the first week of our vacation came to a close as quickly as it started. I walked along historic paths, visited ancient buildings, and experienced Saint Petersburg through the eyes of a true Russian. It was time to put the “touristy” part of our vacation to rest and continue on to friends and family.

♥ Irina

24 Comments

    • September 28, 2012 / 3:59 pm

      It was truly beautiful…the photos don’t even do it justice!

  1. September 27, 2012 / 7:48 am

    you take such beautiful pictures!! Totally postcard worthy! 🙂

    • September 28, 2012 / 3:59 pm

      Aw thanks!

  2. September 27, 2012 / 9:03 am

    Yup it is official my next trip abroad is to russia!

    • September 28, 2012 / 3:59 pm

      🙂 Happy to be an inspiration!

  3. September 27, 2012 / 9:26 am

    Hey : ) I found your blog on Chicago Running Bloggers…. your photos of Russia confirm the fact that I want to visit some day. It looks beautiful!! I can’t wait to see more!

    • September 28, 2012 / 4:00 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! You should definitely visit Russia, it’s a very unique experience.

  4. September 27, 2012 / 9:44 am

    These photos are simply amazing, I was literally staring at each one for quite some time. Glad you are posting them!

    • September 28, 2012 / 4:00 pm

      Aw I’m glad you like them!

  5. September 27, 2012 / 1:48 pm

    These photos are absolutely stunning! Can’t wait for the next recap :D!

    • September 28, 2012 / 4:01 pm

      Thanks 🙂

  6. September 28, 2012 / 9:10 am

    Wow! These pictures are amazing. I love Russian history so the chance to be there would be so wonderful!

    • September 28, 2012 / 4:01 pm

      Hi Natalie, thanks for stopping by here! It’s always fun to meet someone who actually enjoys Russian history 🙂

  7. September 28, 2012 / 9:10 am

    I adore your photos! My study abroad group is traveling to St. Petersburg in October for a long weekend! I seriously cannot wait!! What do you recommend we see? We will be there for 3 days I believe, which is not enough time to really see such an amazing city 🙁

    • September 28, 2012 / 4:04 pm

      I’m so excited for you to visit there! I would recommend seeing the Hermitage, Peterhof, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and plenty of restaurants! The food there is pricey but delicious 🙂 But definitely make time to visit the Hermitage and Peterhof, you will not regret it!

  8. September 28, 2012 / 11:05 am

    Oh wow… absolutely breathtaking photos, Irina! And I love how you gave a little bit of background on each place… it was like a history class that I’d actually want to pay attention in 🙂

    • September 28, 2012 / 4:04 pm

      Haha thanks! Glad I kept your attention at least for a bit 🙂

  9. September 28, 2012 / 11:50 am

    Thanks for sharing these amazing pictures! St Petersburg looks wonderful — I never made it there and it’s one of the top places I want to visit someday. A big part of that is to visit the Hermitage. I had no idea that the paintings/sculptures/etc were spread out through what still really looks like a palace! (In contrast to, say, the Louvre, which really looks more like a museum/gallery.) The eleven years statistic is CRAZY. What an incredible place.

    • September 28, 2012 / 4:07 pm

      I really do you hope you get the chance to visit this stunning city. It’s breathtaking! The Hermitage and Peterhof (especially Peterhof) were my favorite places to explore. I’ve been to the Louvre and actually liked the Hermitage more. It was filled with variety and all that gold was kind to the eyes 🙂

  10. September 28, 2012 / 7:01 pm

    Wow, that everything looks SO gorgeous!!!! Great photos!

    • September 30, 2012 / 11:12 am

      Thank you! Hopefully my photos are inspiring you to visit Russia one day 🙂

  11. September 30, 2012 / 11:01 pm

    Love it love it love it!!! Keep those pictures coming!!! Seeing all the gorgeous artifacts and greenery is making me want to go back to St. Petersburg to explore it more, sigh!

    That is just awesome that you still speak and understand Russian well. It is so, so, so valuable to maintain your mother tongue so I envy that! I spoke Chinese at home when I was growing up, and while I can still understand it fairly well I have a very difficult time speaking it now. Sigh!

    • October 5, 2012 / 2:45 pm

      Awww thanks I’m so glad you like the photos! As I said before…you MUST go back and see this beauty again for yourself! I completely agree – these days it’s great to be bilingual and it’s one of the main reasons I worked to never forget the language. I’m sure that if you ever wanted to re-learn Chinese you would be able to learn it very quickly!