Welcome back! Earlier this year, I spent 3 full days (5 in total with one for travel from Finland and to Sweden) exploring the beautiful city of St.Petersburg, Russia. Here you can find my first impressions of the city alongside advice on transportation and planning your trip!
Day #3 St.Petersburg
On Day #1 of our trip, we roamed around the historic city centre and took a beautiful canal ride up the Neva! Day #2 of our trip included a visit to the beautiful gardens of Peterhof and an unforgettable show of Swan Lake, performed at the Hermitage! Day #3 of our trip was entirely devoted to exploring the inside of the Hermitage and taking one last stroll down Nevsky Prospekt in search of an enticing patio and a great souvenir shop – success! Here’s a snapshot from our last full day in St.Petersburg.
Boasting one of the largest art collections in the world, we decided to reserve the entire morning and early afternoon of our last day in St.Petersburg for wandering the Hermitage, located in Palace Square, featuring the Alexandre Column, and situated opposite the beautiful arc design pictured below.
The Hermitage itself claims to house over 3 million pieces of art (including artifacts) from around the world. Painted in a lush green and lined with white and gold decor, just approaching the building was enough to get a Finn and a Canadian pretty excited about what lay ahead.
The courtyard of the Hermitage:
Inside the Hermitage, visitors are ushered into line for tickets and then sent through security for bag checks. It’s no wonder security is so tight; the building itself dates back to the 1700s and is famous for both it’s art and it’s history, which you can read about in detail online on the museum website.
While the art collection was impressive, more astounding to me was the walk through the palace, and getting a glimpse of the magnitude of wealth that once occupied the gilded walls.
One of my favourite rooms was the Library of Nicholas II designed by architect Alexander Krasovsky in the late 19th century. Oh to have been a fly on the wall! I wonder what his favourite book was?
My interest in the historic over the artistic became fairly obvious as I snapped way more pictures of rooms holding historic significance than of great paintings and statues the occupied the palace rooms. One of the highlights for me was entering into the Malachite Room! Want to know why? Read below.
The Great Imperial Throne, created in 1731 for Empress Anna Ioannovna by the British craftsman Nicholas Klausen, was also on display. It was a great reminder of the power held by the Tsars that once ruled from within these very walls.
Despite my not paying as close attention to the paintings of Russian Empresses and Tsars whose eyes followed me down the halls of their former dwellings, I did take an interest in one or two particular pieces, including this beautiful painting of Joan of Arc. What can I say… she moved me!
Our visit to the Hermitage was soon over and each of us found we had different tales to tell – that’s how big the building is! You can start at the exact same spot yet experience entirely different versions of the museum; while I toured the Tsar’s old chambers, my Swedish friend enjoyed a walk through the impressionist wing and the Finn captured the magnificence of the Peacock Clock (a collection highlight) and grabbed a coffee at the museum cafe (which, incidentally, offers free WiFi). We were all delighted to have visited, and delighted to be done: back into the sun! After all, St.Petersburg supposedly gets a limited number of sunny days throughout the year and we were lucky enough to experience five of them and as the French say, “il faut profiter“!
Coffee on Nevsky
Following our tour of the Hermitage which lasted 2 hours but could have gone 3, we said goodbye to our Belgian comrade who was slowly making her way home and headed – a Finn, a Canadian and a Swede – back towards Nevky Prospekt for a well deserved dose of caffeine. Given the significance of our last day in St.Petersburg, we decided to grab a coffee at Cafe Singer, former HQ of the famous Singer Sewing Machine Company. The building is now home to Dom Knigi, the largest book store in town and Cafe Singer, home to the absolute best desserts in town – with a view directly over the Kazan Cathedral.
After we downed our delicious berry parfait, cheesecake and strudel, we wandered back out onto the Nevksy for some souvenir shopping. As it turned out, the best souvenir shop, called Northway, was steps away from our hotel room, not far from the English Embankment.
En route however, I was able to snap a shot of Russia’s local police force. The cars weren’t any more intimidating than the policemen who were generally out of shape and decked to the nines in pretty funny uniforms. That being said, they also carry around big guns and wear facial expressions that look as if they’re just waiting for you to give them an excuse to use them – so I kept my jokes to myself (until out of earshot anyway).
After being seduced by the colourful Russian dolls staring at us through the window, we were deeply saddened to realize that the shop was closed. Thankfully after seeing three keen foreigners gawking (drooling more like it) over the plentiful number of goods inside, they kindly let us in – which meant we had the entire store to ourselves!
We each left with at least one Russian Doll, a magnet or a scarf! It was the perfect way to end our trip to St.Petersburg – memories of a holiday that had offered up historical intrigue, accommodation disaster, delicious cuisine and one magical performance that would have us humming Tchaikovsky for the remainder of the trip.
St.Petersburg in a nutshell
When I think back on St.Petersburg, there are so many things that stand out; both good and bad (many of which I outlined in my “first impressions” post). I think we would have loved the city more had we stayed in a 4 or 5 star hotel (duly noted for future trips to Eastern Europe) and had we been able to get a better feel for the Soviet history we knew existed but couldn’t seem to find. That being said, roaming the streets of the city and seeing iconic symbols like the onion domes at the Church of Our Saviour was completely mind-boggling, and I continually have to flip through my photos before it clicks that I was actually there – in the flesh.
In terms of our itinerary, if we had had one more full day, we would have loved to see Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin. Would I have substituted Pushkin for Peterhof? Possibly, but there’s really no way to know! I’ll guess there’s only one way to find out!
To be continued…