We arrived in the dark and cool, with our driver waiting on the platform to take us to the next accommodation – which after the last we were a little dubious about as it was listed as a hostel, and Russia in general is not known for its hostels. After a very short ride we arrived at the accommodation, drawing two conclusions, either the train station and hostel are out of town or right in town, we were all hoping it was the latter. We were able to check in and found our rooms ready for a few hours sleep (which was excellent) before our scheduled 10am city walk. This place was obviously a student dormitory of some sorts, all the rooms had 2 single beds, a small wardrobe and table and 2 chairs. In comparison to Moscow it was heaven – clean, smell free, no peeling wallpaper, the beds didn’t have busted springs, it did have communal showers and toilets but they were new and clean … But best of all … there was a real washing machine (for free) !!
We got a few hours kip in before meeting in the lobby for our city tour. As it turns out we were walking distance to most of the ‘big’ sites and places in St. Petersburg so we were very happy. The weather had improved slightly in that it wasn’t raining, but it was still quite cool. Our city tour in St. Petersburg was even shorter than Moscow – this tour company sure is making a motsa for not a lot of work and we were once again split into 2 groups so poor Hamish, Kath, Lisa and Chris were stuck with us again.
We caught the subway into the centre of town, which on the way home we found out was walking was actually quicker, particularly by the time you walk through the huge stations which we had to do twice due to a required line change. So we get out of the subway and what is the first advertisement high above the street on the buildings we see … Yep “Fosters – Australia’s Finest Beer” – it is? Or something close to that. We wandered past the Russian museum and statue of Katherine the Great, past a few churches and to a statue of …. no not Lenin we are in St. Petersburg silly, its Pushkin. Who’s Pushkin you ask .. We aren’t entirely sure either except that he is a famous Russian author.
From Pushkin we walked along the canal – since when did St Petersburg have canals ? It was pretty, especially with the Church on the Spilled Blood sitting at the end of it – its kinda like St Basil’s in Moscow but small and not quite as grand. Why Spilled Blood, well its the built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered in 1881. From Spilled blood we wandered back along the canal to the Kazan Cathedral. The Kazan was modeled off St. Peters in Rome and built from 1801 to 1811 to house the miracle-working Icon Our Lady of Kazan. The dome is 80m high and the colonnade facing Nevsky Prospekt has 96 columns. We went inside and it was amazing, the art work and architecture of the building, the altar and the flooring, all so intricate and beautifully maintained.
From the Kazan we headed down Nevsky to the General Staff Building, the former HQ of the Imperial Russian Army and still owned by the army today, through the very grand arch way and into Palace square, with Alexander Column in the Centre, the Winter Palace and mighty Hermitage in front. The palace was commissioned by Peter the Great but he never lived to see its completion. Later Katherine the great had an annexe built and referred to this as her “hermitage” and filled it with her personal Art Collection, which came to be one of the most magnificent art collections in the world and that folks is why its called the “Hermitage”.
From here we look across the road and see St. Isaac’s and Admiralty building -home to the navy. We walk between these sights arriving at the famed “bronzed horseman”, a statue of Peter the Great astride a horse crushing a snake underfoot. From this point we can also see the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress just through the fog, rain and mist on the water. It is also where our tour guide bids us farewell, having left us instructions to find our rendezvous point for lunch.
We made our way to our lunch point, a little Russian cafeteria type place and again our tour host assisted with the ordering. During lunch, she also obtained tickets to the ballet – “Swan Lake” for 10 of us. We made plans to meet at the hostel where we would then head to dinner and on to the ballet. Our little pack of 6 headed for the Field of Mars and eternal flame, then to Peter the Great’s Summer Garden which was so pretty with leaves falling and turning, the colours are a photographers dream.
From the garden we headed back home for much needed showers, and into our ‘good’ gear ready for our night at the opera. It was quite a funny sight the 10 of us in hikers, jeans and button up shirts with our warm coats on and other ballet goers in their suits and ties but in the end we all get the same seats and same show – equality at its best! We had a few drama’s with dinner, the pub we went to was all ‘reserved’, mind you only after we all sat down, and then it was going to take an hour for our meals (which we didn’t have), so some of us went next door to a little café, which all in all wasn’t too bad at all. The ballet – “Swan Lake” was excellent and we all had a great night – even the first timers thought it was pretty good – including Tash.