Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trip to St. Petersburg, Russia Federation (July 2015)

Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg's icon
We ate breakfast at 5:30am and loaded our luggage onto the bus at 6am to depart. The early departure was because we could not predict how much time it would take to complete the border crossing into Russia.

We arrived at the Russian border at 10:30am. It was relatively smooth despite some bureaucratic challenge, but we were able to clear through the immigration in an hour.

We had left 220 km until St. Petersburg from the border.

Tsar Peter the Great
St. Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia Federation with a population of 5 million people, after Moscow, the country's capital city. St. Petersburg was established by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. The emperor wanted to be close to Europe and imitated the Netherlands a lot. This city was the imperial capital for two centuries until 1918 when the capital was moved to Moscow. But, this city remains the Russia's cultural capital.

St. Petersburg has gone through a few name changes. The original name was Saint Petersburg, but it was changed to Petrograd in 1914, and changed again to Leningrad in 1924 and back to Saint Petersburg in 1991, All these changes were primarily because of the political reasons.

St. Petersburg has been built on a marsh land delta of the Neva River. So the city is intertwined with a hundred rivers and canals. More than 800 bridges cross over these waterways which are an integral part of the city geography.
A canal view with St Isaac Church in distance

Peter the Great defeated the Swedish Kingdom and established a prominent Russian Empire in Europe, particularly in the Baltic region. But he was the last Tsar of the Russian Empire.

Russia is well known for vodka, literature, music and dome-style architecture.

Upon arrival, we checked into an independent hotel, Hotel Matisov Dominic, in the western part of the city.

We took a city tour boarding the same bus but with a local tour guide, namely Vera. Among many sites and sounds of the cultural city was St. Issac Cathedral, one of the city's iconic buildings. It has 112 single-stone columns each of which weighs 100 tons. Its golden dome has 100 kg of gold gilded. It was built by Nicholas the First right in front of his own palace.

A sail boat by the Neva River
A restaurant by the Neva River
St. Isaac Church
Tsar Nicholas I and his palace
It was a free day and we decided to start late. After breakfast, around the mid-day, we got on the hop-on hop-off boat for a canal cruise.

First, we visited Museum of Music that was housed in Sheremetev Palace, built in 1750. All items, musical instruments and painting, were displayed only with Russian explanation, so our understanding and appreciation was limited. We passed through a horsemen bridge where four sculptures of a horse and a man. The sculptures exhibited dynamic postures.
Entrance to the palace
Many different string instruments
One of the rooms
One of the horseman sculptures

We later visited Farbege Museum that was run by a private family. All the operations were smooth and people were friendly and efficient. The museum displayed precious works of Farbege company that was commissioned by the royal family to produce various art works, particularly Easter eggs that contained surprise gifts by the Tsars for their wives or beloved. The beauty of the products was stunning and the consideration that was put into the design and actual works was amazing.

We strolled the Summer Garden, located on an island surrounded by three canals. The name Summer Garden came from the Summer Palace where Peter the Great spent time during the summer since the garden was adjacent to the palace. The garden was fenced with iron-cast railings which is one of the symbols of St. Petersburg. The garden has many trees, fountains and sculptures spread all over. It was crowded with people whether they were tourists and residents. Alexander Pushkin, Russia's great poet and founder of Russia's modern literature, was known to have enjoyed walking in the garden.
Iron-cast railing fence
Main pathway in the garden
One of fountains in the garden

After all, we walked a lot, approximately 26,000 footsteps. Ladies got a little exhausted.

The next day, we joined a group tour for four museums guided by Vera. The first two museums belonged to Hermitage Museum that was located at the royal family's Winter Palace. The Hermitage Museum consisted of five museums. Together, Hermitage Museum is regarded as one of the world's three major museums, along with Luvre Museum of France and National Museum of Great Britain. The Hermitage Museum is known to have approximately 3 million pieces of artworks. Even if you spend only one minute for each item, it would take approximately five years. The Hermitage Museum is famous for its colorful and individually named rooms. The first museum we visited was the main building covering a variety of art works and history. The second museum we visited was displaying many works of the Impressionist age. A few hours were far too short to appreciate the fine artworks abundantly displayed at the museums.
Main Building of the Winter Palace (Hermitage Museum)
Another wing that stores the artworks of Impressionists

The third museum we visited was the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood. This church, St. Petersburg's iconic building, reminded me of a fairy tale building you can find in amusement parks, like Disney Land. It has 11 Russian domes with spires. It was reported to have taken 24 years to build and 27 years to rebuild after it was destroyed in the course of Russian October Revolution. The current structure was opened in 1967 after it was renovated for 27 years. It first opened in 1907. The building was bright and colorful outside, standing out in the city horizon. Its interior is covered with mosaic artworks.

Mosaic artworks

Heart-shaped cross signifying spilled blood

The fourth museum was Paul and Peter's Fortress. Previously, the fortress was regarded as the strongest and largest one in Europe, reportedly, but now the main buildings house the tombstones or monuments of the Tsars who were buried there. They include the Peter the Great, Nicholas I, II, III and IV, plus some other Tsars.and their wives.

In the evening, we watched a Russian folk show that included a lot of military style clapping and tap dances, unique to Russian culture. Male dancers were wearing military caps and uniforms in several dances.

We ended up walking approximately 20,000 footsteps.

Obviously, St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We appreciated beautiful buildings and long history of arts, literature and music. It would be only better appreciated if the city is more friendly to the tourists with their language. - Jeffrey

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