The One with St. Petersburg, Russia


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Our third cruise stop was a three-day stint in St. Petersburg, Russia! The entry requirements for Russia are a little restrictive. You can try and get a tourist visa which is an expensive and lengthy process or you can book an excursion with your cruise company. Other than that, you are staying on the boat. We obviously weren't going to miss this chance so we pre-booked a few excursions with the cruise line. It was a very easy process and early that first morning in port we passed through customs (got another stamp in the 'ol passport) and loaded up in our tour bus.
Some sort of Russian naval sailors we drove by.
Our first glimpses of St. Petersburg through the rainy bus window.
Once a swamp, then an imperial capital, and now a showpiece of vanished aristocratic opulence shot through with the dingy ruins of communism, St. Petersburg is Russia's most tourist-worthy city. Palaces, gardens, statues, and arched bridges over graceful waterways bring back the time of czars. Two of the world's greatest art museums and some sumptuous Orthodox churches top it off. 
Our first excursion was to tour the incredible Hermitage.
Built by Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth, the Hermitage was later filled with the art collection of Catherine the Great. The Hermitage's vast collections of just about everything - but especially its European masterworks - make it one of the world's top art museums, ranking with the Louvre and Prado. Housed in the Romanov's Winter Palace, the Hermitage is actually two-top notched sight-seeing experiences in one: an art gallery of European works and an imperial residence. You get to enjoy the Leonardos and Rembrandts while imagining the ostentatious lifestyles of the czars who collected them. Between the canvases you glide through some of the most opulent ballrooms and throne rooms ever built.
Here is the museum/palace from across the river.
Excursion selfie!
One of the museum's artistic highlights is Rembrandt's The Prodigal Son from 1669. Chris loved seeing it in person after having studied it in college (right photo below). On the left, the War Gallery of 1812 is a hall displaying over 300 portraits of the generals who helped to expel Napoleon from Russia in 1812. 
In the hall, and throughout the museum, were art students from the academy of fine arts who are allowed in the museum early to study from the masterpieces. These students were incredibly talented!
Student | Sumptuous ceiling. 
St. George's Room, also known as the Great Throne room, is one of the largest rooms in the palace. It served as the principal throne room for most of the palace's history and many formal and important events took place here. It was a sight to behold.
Top left is the Memorial Hall of Peter the Great, a.k.a. the Small Throne Room. 
 I want this ceiling in a patterned paper, please and thank you.
One of the highlights of the palace is the Pavilion Room with it's intricate Peacock Clock. The timepiece was built by British goldsmith James Cox and purchased by Catherine the Great.
You almost don't even notice the incredible clock when you first walk in the room, however, because the decoration is so incredible. Absolutely breathtaking. 
A pretty gold lamp and a painting of the Habsburg jaw.
The best thing about this excursion was that our tour group was basically the only people in the whole museum. There were about 35 of us, but those were the only people we saw in the museum. I guess tour groups are allowed in early which was so amazing. No crowds, no pushing with people to get close to the paintings, no sholder to sholder trying to admire the rooms (**cough**Versailles**cough**). I loved it.
The great Dutch painter Rembrandt is beautifully represented in the Hermitage. This hall was devoted to pieces by him and his followers.
We admired Raphaels, Leonardos, Michelangelos, Titians, and more, all in this incredible setting. 
Wow! I would have loved to have hours to explore and appreciate every nook and cranny, especially if it could have stayed as empty as it was for us.
Marble statues lining a grand staircase.
Looking out the window to Palace Square with the Alexander Column honoring Czar Alexander I in the center.
The colors of this room reminded me of Wedgwood china.
How cool are these royal sleighs? So incredible.
The Evans Family in St. Petersburg, Russia in front of the Hermitage on Wednesday July 29th, 2015.
Before going back to the boat, the tour bus stopped at a tourist market to let people pick up trinkets. We found our usual magnet and got the kids some little Russian souvenirs. 
And this was the last photo my Nikon ever took, waaaaaaaaaaaah. I was pulling our bag out of the stroller and my camera fell out and smashed on the cement sidewalk. RIP Nikon. You were amazing.
I couldn't even get a nice replacement camera for two whole days since the shops on board weren't open while we're docked and we weren't allowed to walk around Russia since we didn't get a Visa. I was absolutely distraught, to say the least. I TAKE PICTURES! IT'S WHAT I DOOOOO! And we hadn't even seen what I was most excited to see in St. Petersburg yet! But, life goes on, so the following photos were all taken by my sub-par phone. Better than nothing! Barely :)
Almost every afternoon after we were done sight seeing we'd take fox to the Adventure Ocean kids club. It was great (and free!) and he absolutely loved it. Often we'd pick him up and his face would be painted, like Batman for example, below. His face is sad because he didn't want to leave the "play room," as he called it.
The next day we went to Peterhof, but that'll be another post. On our last day in Russia, we did a walking tour to see the Church of the Spilled Blood. Read on.
 
FRIDAY JULY 31ST 2015
Just like Wednesday we woke up early, passed through customs, and loaded up on our bus for our next adventure.
We passed buy this McDonald's, or Макдоналдс, if you will. It was cool seeing signs like this or Subway or Starbucks in Russian.
The tour guides did a good job of giving us mini bus tours as we would drive to our destinations. This is the Peter and Paul Fortress founded by Peter the Great in 1703 during the Great Northern War with Sweden. The golden spire of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral within was visible all around the city.
The Trinity Bridge - created by the same architect as the Eiffel Tower. They do look similar in design!
Statue of Peter the Great.

Our walking tour began in the Field of Mars, a large park situated in the middle of St. Petersburg. On 6 November 1957 in the center of the Field was lit an Eternal Flame honoring "victims of the revolution".
Our tour guide holding her "lollipop." She couldn't have been more than about 20 years old.
Pretty bridge.
Mikhailovsky Castle, a formal royal residence, sits behind the Field of Mars. The castle looks different from each side as the architects used motifs of various architectural styles such as French Classicism, Italian Renaissance, and Gothic.

Cobblestone streets: hard on strollers but easy on the eyes.
Another side of the castle.
We took turns rubbing part of the statue for good weather. It was supposed to start raining, but luckily it held out until the end of our excursion. The rubbing totally worked.
This is the gym where they train Olympian gymnasts. Cool!
I really wish we had been able to more fully explore this wonderful city on our own and at our own pace. Maybe next time :)


At one point, our tour group stopped at a souvenir store so we took the chance to dash off on our own for a few minutes.
Look at the view we found! That's the Spilled Blood Church in the background, the last stop of our walking tour. 
The Evans Family in St. Petersburg, Russia on Friday 31st July 2015.
Nevsky Prospekt is St. Petersburg's most famous thoroughfare and along its length are some of the city's most opulent palaces, top museums, most important churches, and finest urban architecture, including the Art Noveau so-called Singer House. It was once the Russian headquarters of the American sewing machine company, Singer, hence the bald eagle with its wings spread wide on top. 
Right across the boulevard is the Neoclassical Kazan Cathedral.  Re-opened as a church after years as a "Museum of Atheism" under the communists rule, this huge church has a sweeping portico modeled after St. Peter's in Rome.
A modern carriage?! No way!
After admiring the views along Nevsky Prospect and loving our few minutes of freedom, we hastily re-joined our group before we got snatched up by the Russian police :)

Finally, it was what we were waiting for: the Church on Spilled Blood. 
This exuberantly decorative church with its gilded carrot top of onion domes is a must-see. It's built on the place where a suicide bomber assassinated Czar Alexander I in 1881 - explaining both the evocative name and the structure's out of kilter relationship to the surrounding street plan. 
Begun just after Alexander's assassination but not finished until 1907, the church is built in a neo-Russian, Historicist stye. Its designers created a building that was a romantic, fairy-tale image of their own national history and traditions - similar to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and the Matthias Church in Budapest.  
Entering the church and looking up you are greeted by Christ gazing down at you from the top of the dome, bathed in light from the windows and ringed by the gold balcony railing.
The walls are covered with exquisite mosaics (nothing is painted) that show how Orthodoxy continues the artistic traditions of early Christianity. So (so so so so so) cool.
The iconostasis - the partition dividing the altar from the main part of the church - is made of marble with inlaid doors. Incredible.
More shots of the interior because I couldn't get enough.
These are not paintings - they're MOSAICS. Each and every little stone was meticulously placed to create these large images. Astounding.
In the back of the church, a canopy marks the spot where the Czar was mortally wounded. 
If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it.
Not to end on a sour note, but after walking out of the church, it started raining and I got sick. Super sick. Like, STREP THROAT sick. Who gets strep throat on a cruise?! Me, that's who. And it sucked big time. I didn't want to go to the doctor and get antibiotics because I'm sure they would have quarantined me and that is the opposite point of a cruise. So I popped some pills every few hours, drank lots of water, and sucked it up for basically the rest of the trip because that's how long it lasted. The first few days were the worst, but eventually it was tolerable. Anyway, it happens. I didn't let it dampen my spirits TOO much. On we went! 

The second day in Russia we ventured out of St. Petersburg to Peterhof so that's the next recap post coming soon!
Paige Taylor Evans © // Quinn Creatives DESIGN