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Day 1 St Petersburg Russia

Day 1 St Petersburg Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

We wake up on the ferry which has now steamed into St Petersburg, Russia and we are excited to see the buildings on shore.  Interestingly they are not at all what I expected.  There are tall high-rise buildings more akin to Dubai than how I thought Russia would look. The ship sails onwards up into the river mouth for another two hours before finally coming to a halt.

With a 10am ‘Introduction to St Petersburg Tour’ booked (a ‘rare for us’ paid guided bus tour of a city), we are among the first to disembark and make our way down the gangplank to the waiting and oh so serious passport and customs officers. The somber atmosphere makes me stand up straight, take note, and behave myself.  As if by some unspoken rule I whisper instead of talking in a normal tone, just in case I draw undue attention to myself and get into trouble.

Being processed through customs and immigration was an interesting exercise.  Only one person at a time and don’t try to make small talk.  They are there for a job and it’s not their job to engage you in idle conversation.  The lady in front of us in the line was four foot nothing high and was a sweet old lady.  The officer had to stand up to peer over his booth to ensure it was the same lady he could see on the documentation in front of him. Given I was up next I was expecting the same treatment, although not quite that short, I’m still ‘fun sized’ as my husband of six foot says.

We sailed through the official part and onto Russian soil.  I look down as if to find something different. I didn’t.  All soil, or at least concrete, looks the same the world over.

Standing on the ground in St Petersburg is for me like being a kid in a candy shop with an empty tummy, big eyes, and unlimited money.  I have to keep pinching myself to see if this is real.  My mind takes me a million miles away back to my childhood in NZ when the thought of being here was out of reach and beyond comprehension.  I smile and let the wave of realisation wash over me like a warm blanket. I smile again and feel the butterflies of anticipation start to take flight as I consider what is about to be revealed to me after all these years of dreaming.

We climb on the bus and I opt to sit at the back with the naughty children, I mean husband.  Before long the half empty (or should I say half full) bus takes off on our three-hour guided introduction to St Petersburg.

The day is somewhat overcast and we soon find out that this is a typical day for St. Petersburg.  In fact, according to our guide, the city has just 60 days of sunshine a year and for this reason and in an attempt to be more cheerful, many of the buildings are painted in bright, happy, sunshine colours.

We don’t worry, however, as we have a strong belief that the sun follows us and so we are expecting weather is on the way.  Our faith in the sun proves to be well founded in the days ahead.

Driving from the ship into the city we encounter the industrial side of St Petersburg.  It’s grimy, dirty, and run down.  We are told the factories are slowly being moved out into the countryside to make way for beautifying the city on this valuable land.

Once we leave the industrial zone we are blown away by the sights of this outstanding gem of a city.

OMG! I’m so glad we are not driving Betsy through these streets.  For your information, don’t ever try to bring a motorhome, (at least the size of Betsy, 7.5M) into the wee streets of St Petersburg.  Even in the bus I cringed as the driver hit a (flexible) sign on our very first corner!  I am so grateful I am not a bus driver.

That said, he actually did an awesome job, however not without administering several blasts on the horn (I’m assuming deservedly so).  The drivers here seem to have zero tolerance for hesitation and even as pedestrians you have to make your intentions crystal clear, take the bull by the horns, and step out on the pedestrian crossing!  It appears that even if the crossing light is green for go, the drivers will see an opportunity to cross in front of you, so beware.

Sights & Attractions From Our Bus Tour

Ancient Sphinx

The first place we stop is at the two Ancient Sphinx by the Neva River. Not many people know that the northernmost location of an Egyptian Sphinx is actually in Russia.  This makes the Sphinx of Saint Petersburg, probably, the only place in the world where you can see a three thousand year old sphinx covered in snow. (Thankfully not on our watch).  These Sphinx were actually purchased by the city, not gifted as if often the case with monument such as these.

Egyptian Sphinx

Rostral Columns

Rostral Columns – these two columns are famous landmarks that were used as navigation beacons for the many ships sailing down the four rivers, Neva, the Volga, the Volkov and lastly the Dnieper.  Used in the 1800s these beacons were gas lit and are still lit on occasion for certain ceremonies.

St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

The entrance to the church had three elderly ladies sitting begging for whatever the tourists could spare.  I always feel sad when seeing beggars and give them a few dollars.  The church was stunning inside; unfortunately for you, there were no photos allowed, meaning I cannot share the majesty with you and unfortunately for me, as the visual memories fade oh so quickly.  I deeply respect their request as the church is protecting those who come to worship, without the concern of being photographed.  There was in fact a service going on and I noticed everyone was standing.  I trust, or at least hope, it wasn’t a long service because the average age of the congregation was not exactly youthful.

Just being allowed entry into this church was a gift.  A rare chance to stand and drink in all the colours, decorations, artifacts, and bright colours was something of a sensory overload.  I really didn’t want to leave in any great hurry.  This is one of those times I wish I had a photographic memory, oh well, that’s why we return to these places I guess.

Isaakievskaya Square

Also known as St Isaac’s Square, this was our final stopping point where the monument to Nicholas I was depicted above his horse.

From here we left the bus to head towards our hotel.  I found out from a fellow American tourist that they, and others on the bus tour, were to spend the next two hours in the Hermitage Museum before boarding the ship and heading back to Helsinki.  Having just one short day in St Petersburg seemed a shame to me and once it became apparent just what this city had to offer, they were agreeing with me.  Also to be limited to only two hours in the Hermitage Museum was almost criminal as our five-hour meander on Day Two proved.

It didn’t take long to find our hotel, The Pushkin Inn Hotel.  We couldn’t have booked a better location (thanks Alan), for its proximity to the city, the sights and the best attractions available in St Petersburg, Russia.

On arrival they had champagne waiting for us (to celebrate our anniversary) and had very kindly given us the only standard room with a bath.  When you’ve been living in a motorhome for 15 months you will understand the importance of that!

Our Accommodation For The Next Two Nights

Kazan Cathedral

Once settled in our room, we headed out again with the intention of making the most of our short stay here. Our first stop was The Kazan Cathedral.  This is one of the biggest Cathedrals in St Petersburg.  It took ten years to build from 1801 to 1811 and was modelled off Rome’s Vatican’s Basilica of St. Peter.

The cathedral was intended to be the country’s main Orthodox Church. After the war of 1812 (during which Napoleon was defeated) the church became a monument to Russian victory.  The cathedral became a museum housing the collections of the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, which displayed numerous pieces of religious art and served anti-religious propaganda purposes.  It was only a couple of years ago that regular church services were resumed in the cathedral, though it still shares the premises with the museum, from whose name the word “atheism” has now been omitted.

Inside the architecture is once again impressive, boasting large marble columns, huge chandeliers, gold picture frames and the heavy use of gold throughout the cathedral, domes, and numerous statues.

I was surprised at the significantly long line-up of worshipers waiting to pay their respects and kiss a picture that I couldn’t quite make out on the far wall.  The line moved slowly and continued to grow during our hour-long visit.

The Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral Columns

Worshippers Queue to Kiss the Picture

Kazan Cathedral Dome

Church of the Savior on Blood

The final tourist destination for us today was the Church of the Savior on Blood (also called Church of the Resurrection of Christ).  This is one of the most significant churches in St. Petersburg, for its more than 7,500 square metres of famous shimmering mosaics and marble patterned floor.  This Church was my favourite and compelled more wow’s from my mouth than any other.  It was simply breathtaking and whilst you can enjoy our photos, the church has to be seen to be believed.  We stood for an hour just admiring skill, artistry and craftsmanship that went into constructing and decorating this church.  It wasn’t large inside, but it took a long time to take it all in.  Plus there were lots and lots of people also enjoying the sights (and keeping dry due to the howling rain bomb happening outside).

The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated, following an attack on March 13th, 1881.  He actually died in hospital from his wounds, however there is a shrine within the building marking the actual place where he was struck down.  The construction of the church began in 1883 during the reign of Alexander III (son of Alexander II) and was finished in 1907, under the reign of Nicholas II.  Extensive damage occurred to the interior due to looting and ransacking immediately after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the church was later closed by the Communist government.  It was used as a temporary morgue during the Seige of Leningrad in World War II and thereafter as a vegetable warehouse.

An interesting fact I only learnt after our visit was that during the war, a bomb fell on the highest dome but did not explode, and it remained in place for 19 years.  When the workers went up to the dome to patch some leaks they found and removed the bomb.  It was then that they decided to begin the restoration of the Church, which after 27 years, was inaugurated as a state museum where visitors can appreciate the building and learn the history of the assassination of Alexander II.

This church has to be one of the most photographed in St Petersburg both from the outside and inside.  See what you think of these pictures.

The Church of the Saviour On Blood

Outstanding Dining Experience

We are now officially exhausted from a full-on, but satisfying, day out and about in St Petersburg.  We retire back to the hotel for a well deserved soak in a hot bubble bath accompanied by a wee vino that helps me wind down and reflect on an amazing first day in this stunning city.

In the interests of not walking any further today in order to preserve our feet for tomorrow, we pop next door to the restaurant attached to the hotel.  We find ourselves served a delightful dinner, the likes of which have eluded us for the past 15 months (bar one exception in Italy), however the prices here are incredibly reasonable, if not cheap.

Alan ordered the beef cheeks, served with green mashed potato, honey carrot and local cranberry sauce.  He chose, as usual, the pick of the dishes tonight.  It was roast duck for me (a dish I can seldom go part), served with pear stewed in wine.  We then ordered a salad of caramelised pumpkin with beetroot, shevre cheese and pecan nut.  A great accompaniment to a superb meal.  With food this good, we can’t leave dessert behind, so I ordered Honey Cake topped with red berries and Alan dove into the Sharlotka Apple Tart, which is a traditional Russian apple tart with almond crust and orange zest served with vanilla ice cream.

Bellies full and smiles on our faces, we retire for the evening to prepare for day two in St Petersburg.

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72-hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg you are reading now includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood 

Day 2 St Petersburg includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night 

Day 3 St Petersburg includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

 

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Day 2 St Petersburg Russia

Day 2 St Petersburg Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

Oooh it’s so exciting waking up in a new place, especially one as foreign as Russia.

Keen to see what today offers, we opt for a quick bite to eat at a local French patisserie, Garcon, around the corner and then head on our way.

The plan for today is The Hermitage Museum, followed by the ballet, Swan Lake this evening and then viewing the night lights of St Petersburg on an extended journey back to the hotel.

 

The Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage Museum is the second biggest art museum in the world, behind Paris’ Louvre.  With it’s more than 1,000 rooms and over three million items, they say it would take eight years to see everything if viewing each item for just one minute.

Our guide tells us that the palace was built for Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, although she never actually occupied it.  Catherine the Great, Peter’s wife became the first owner.

The museum is made up of six individual buildings, five of which are open to the public.  These include the stunning Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre.

The Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. The museum celebrates the anniversary of its founding each year on 7 December, Saint Catherine’s Day.  It has been open to the public since 1852 and boasts the largest collection of paintings in the world.

The fact that we lost five hours wandering around the museum, and only scratched the surface of what there is to see, is a testament to not only its size but also to the sheer volume of interesting and varied artefacts keeping us entertained.  In fact, as you will see from the photos we were hugely impressed with the buildings, each room boasting fabulous architecture that we had to survey, before then turning our attention to what was actually on display.

Five hours was not enough time, however with tired feet, and brains full to overflowing, it was time to leave.  If we were staying in St Petersburg for longer there is no doubt the Hermitage would have received our patronage for at least a second day.

With our cameras fill with amazing photos, this is just a very small sample of what we saw here.  Enjoy these and click on each image to enlarge.

The Hermitage Museum

Famous Russian Ballet – Swan Lake

A trip to Russia without seeing the ballet would be verging on criminal.  What better place is there to experience my first ever ballet and what better ballet to enjoy than the famous Swan Lake?  I read up about the ballet beforehand so I could at least follow what was happening, and thankful I did because there was no interpretation forthcoming.

The ballet was showcased in The Alexandrinsky Theater to a full house.  We were in the third row from the front with a close-up view of the dancers, their expressions, their costumes and their dedication to their performance.

As expected, their costumes were beautiful as were the stage props.  There was no expense spared to bring the story to light and entertain the punters.  Unfortunately, but understandable, there were no photos allowed during the performance, however, I managed to click a couple at the end.

The Beautiful Alexandrinsky Theater Lit Up at Night

A Sneak Preview Inside the Alexandrinsky Theater

Finale of Swan Lake

The Fairy Lights of St Petersburg at Night

“A city of lights” is how I’d describe this spectacular city when driving around at night.  We asked the taxi driver for a guided city lights tour on our way back to the hotel and he gladly obliged for a few more roubles.

St Petersburg by night is lit up like 10,000 candles with nearly every building in the central area liberally doused with coloured illumination.  The bright, dancing lights perfectly compliment the vibrant night life that spills out of the restaurants and clubs and crowds the footpath with tourists, buskers, street performers and locals.

Here is some of what we captured on our tour.

The Hermitage by Night

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72 hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood 

Day 2 St Petersburg is what you are reading now and includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night 

Day 3 St Petersburg includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

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Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

Welcome to St Petersburg, Russia

Have you ever wanted to visit St Petersburg but thought it was too hard, too scary, or that the visa requirements are too onerous.  Then think again.

If you are planning a trip to St Petersburg or are thinking about visiting this wonderful city, you probably have a few questions that I hope I can answer in this series of five blogs about our recent trip (August/September 2018).

Here’s what you can expect to learn by reading these blogs:
✅ What’s the deal with visas
✅ Where did we park our motorhome
✅ What’s the currency and how to exchange money
✅ Are there any health concerns we should know about
✅ How to get the internet
✅ What to see and do
✅ Hiring a Guide
✅ How much it cost us, plus much more…

 

Introduction

From a young age, I remember seeing St Petersburg at night in pictures and thinking that this place has been taken directly from a fairy tale.

I now know that was an underestimation!

Not only were the lights beautiful at night, but during the day the colours of the buildings and the majesty of the architecture blew me away.  Putting into words how to describe this stunning city is difficult so I will allow the pictures to show you later instead.

Welcome to the St. Petersburg Series.  In this string of blogs I will share how to get to St Petersburg, Russia from Helsinki, the Top Tourist Attractions in St Petersburg and in particular a day by day account of what you can visit in three days (based on our experience).

I will also provide a glimpse into the history of St Petersburg from what we gleaned over our short stay.

For more detailed information there is a wealth of knowledge contained in a handy online guide called St Petersburg In Your Pocket.  You can also pick up the physical guide from your hotel, just ask.

Tune into my Summary Blog where I give a wrap up of St Petersburg, why and how to book a guide, some interesting facts and history, links on where to book the ferry, hotel, ballet, and more, plus I share all of the costs for our three-day visit.

Arriving into St Petersburg Russia

We are traveling around Europe in a motorhome and taking this to St Petersburg from Helsinki just wasn’t possible without a considerable amount of planning and documentation.  That’s not to say it can’t be done, and in fact, I hope that after reading this series you will, like us, give this some serious consideration.

On this occasion we took a ferry and booked our passage on the St Peter Line ferry, leaving Helsinki at 7pm on a Wednesday evening at the end of August 2018, which traveled overnight to arrive in St Petersburg the following morning at 9am.  Then we returned on a lovely evening cruise at 7pm Saturday, arriving back into a still sleepy Helsinki on 8am on the Sunday.

For details about costs please see our summary blog.  The added bonus about being on the ferry was that it was like having a night out, with some great entertainment and live music.

72-hour Visa-Free Visit into St Petersburg from Helsinki

The visa-free visit means we didn’t have the hassle of sending our passports away, paying for a visa, and waiting for the passports to be sent somewhere for collection (given we don’t have a home address).  

The criteria for the 72-hour visa-free visit states:

1.  You must enter by ferry (St Peter Line seems to be only one acceptable) or a cruise ship*~.
2.  You must book a “city tour”, which in this case is just the shuttle taking you from the ship to your hotel (and return).  You don’t actually need to go on this as just booking it fulfils the ‘visa-free’ requirements.
3.  You must have a hotel booking, also known as a ‘registration’, and be able to present evidence of this.  I understand that Air BnB bookings are not valid however this needs further confirmation.

* When you take a cruise ship you stay overnight on board.  This would have been expensive and would have made it more difficult to see the wonderful lights of St Petersburg by night.  Therefore we choose to take the ferry and book hotel accommodation in the city centre instead.  This turned out to be the right decision for us.

~There has been talk of allowing visa-free visits for passengers on the Allegro train from Helsinki, but to date, train passengers still need to get a visa.

In past times all visitors were required to also book a guide and were chaperoned during their entire stay.  Many people we spoke with still opted to hire a guide, as did we, for convenience and to glean the most out of the time.

If you are planning a longer trip to Russia, then there are a number of visa considerations.  I could state them all here, or you can download this up to date Guide that steps you through the Visa requirements from the UK (plus the US, Australia and NZ) and shows you how to complete the documentation.

If you plan on going further afield after Russia, China perhaps, then here’s the information for UK residents (and US, Australia and NZ residents) to apply for a visa.

Motorhome Parking In Helsinki

If you have a motorhome, you might be wondering what we did with our Betsy.

In order to park her legally and safely we drove her to the only motorhome camping ground, Rastila Camping Helsinki which is a council run camping ground about 30 minutes drive out of Helsinki.  At €17 per night for parking only it was a bit steep although worth every penny to have our home safe and sound upon returning.

Details on this camping ground including how to book can be found in the post about costs.

Public transport directly to the ferry terminal was easy and cheap (€2.80 each) via the Metro Station outside Rastila Camping.

Currency

Russia’s currency is the Ruble (RUB) (dollars) and kopeks (cents).  It is illegal to pay with Euros or Dollars so please don’t expect or ask this of any retailer.

It was easy enough for us to exchange our Euros for Rubles on the ferry, however, this will not give you the best exchange rates or lowest commissions.  You can also find ATMs at most metro stations and exchange your money at the banks and in large hotels (although in my past experience hotels often sting you on exchange rates).

In August 2018 we exchanged €50 for $3,954 RUB and paid a commission of $204 RUB.  The exchange rate was €1 = 79,080 RUB.

Over the course of three days, we found this amount was adequate for our needs.  We used our Mastercard credit card for most attractions and meals, and for every other purchase, other than the street vendors or market stallholders.  However, you may need more because we are not big shoppers or spenders!

Internet

Thankfully my internet provider is FREE Mobile, from France and their services extend to Russia.  Alan’s Italian Vodafone, however, wasn’t so accommodating.

There is always the option of purchasing a local SIM or waiting until you are back on the hotel‘s premises as they provide free internet.

Don’t expect the local eating establishments to offer WiFi, as that’s a rarity.  In order to purchase a local SIM you need to show your registration (hotel booking information) and your passport including the document that would have been inserted into it by the Russian passport control (don’t lose this as it is removed at departure).

Water

We were advised against drinking the local tap water and later found out that it is highly chlorinated due to parasites and contains heavy metals.  Our hotel provided free bottled drinking water every day and also provided filtered water for our drink bottle refilling before we left each morning.  Brushing teeth using the water is fine, just avoid swallowing too much.

Our Expectations

With just three days to see the large city of St Petersburg one has to be cognisant of realistic expectations.  I doubt we would have successfully absorbed all of this city’s gems in three weeks!   I definitely overestimated what we could see and underestimated the time that it takes to see it all! 

Top Attractions

I made a list of the top tourist attractions and then plotted them on a Google Map (below).  Given our limited time, we opted for quality over quantity.  One example of this is the five hours we spent in The Hermitage Museum compared with the two-hour guided tour option.  Even then, five hours wasn’t enough, except for my feet, which thanked me later!

Click on the interactive map below to see the tourist attractions I had planned for us to see.  Then you can compare these to what we actually saw during our three-day stay.

To find the list of destinations, click on the window looking button with an arrow on the far left in the top grey bar.  You can zoom in on the map to see the proximity of every attraction.  That’s how we chose our accommodation, as we didn’t want to spend time walking for miles and miles.

In my post-visit research, I stumbled across a travel guide on Russia, which is very well laid out. I am seldom impressed with guides to the extent I am with this one.  Please, if you are planning a trip to Russia then do yourself a favour and check out this Russian Tour Guide to save you time and money (and potentially a lot of headaches).

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…
Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood 
Day 2 St Petersburg includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night 
Day 3 St Petersburg includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral
Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

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Day 3 St Petersburg Russia

Day 3 St Petersburg Russia

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

Last Day

Our last day has come along quicker than I’d hoped.  However, we are lucky to have a full day here before the ferry heads back to Helsinki, Finland, at 7pm tonight.

We opted for a guide on our last day.  We had met a lovely sailing couple from the UK while touring through the Åland Islands and they gave us the name of a guide they used.  They said his prices were reasonable and his knowledge extensive.

Vladimir collected us from the hotel for a civilised 11am start to our day.  He delighted us for the next five hours with his insights, including sharing his experience of the Soviet regime, before dropping us to the ferry.

The first stop today was still in the city center, at Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, as we had run out of time to visit here over the previous two days.  Vladimir came into the Cathedral with us and shared his knowledge.  In times gone past it was a requirement to have a guide as part of your stay in St Petersburg, but not anymore.  I highly recommend a guide as you will learn things that make the experience more fulfilling.

Many people we spoke with hired guides, however when comparing costs Vladimir was by far the best value for money, very likable, and most flexible.  Nothing was a problem for him, even when I changed times on him.  Plus his communication was prompt and efficient.  If you want the name of our guide please send me an email and I will happily send you his details privately.  We don’t want to swamp the lovely chap.

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, also known as Isaakievskiy Sobor, is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city.  It is the largest orthodox basilica and the fourth largest cathedral in the world.  This cathedral is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron Saint of Peter the Great, who had been born on the first day of that saint.

When checking these facts, as I often do, I came to realise that you won’t find Saint Isaac’s Cathedral on the list of largest churches in the world because it doesn’t offer weekly worship meetings, the criteria for which to be called a ‘church’.  Saint Isaac’s is more of a museum today and boy what a beauty she is.

Boasting fifteen, yes fifteen, different shades of granite this church/museum appears to have been built with little regard to cost or expense.  The sheer opulence is to be marvelled at.

Building commenced in 1818 and during its 40 year construction, some 40,000 people died The reasons behind the 40,000 deaths was a mystery until the culprit was finally discovered – mercury evaporation poisoning.  Over half a million people had a hand to play in her building, possibly by slave labour, which wasn’t abolished in Russia until the 19th century.

During the many wars Russia battled, this cathedral, as well as others of significance, was covered with camouflage nets to hide it from the air.  Although ground forces did in fact damage one side, which is still obvious today, the building remained relatively unscathed.

With an area of 4000 square meters, the cathedral can accommodate up to 12,000 people. St. Isaac’s Cathedral, as well as almost all Orthodox churches, is five-domed. On the porticoes of the drum of the dome there 72 solid granite columns installed weighing from 64 to 114 tons. For the first time in the construction practice the columns of this size were raised to a height of 40 meters. Inside the church there is a video showing this ground-breaking system. It took over 45 kilos of pure gold for gilding of all the domes of the cathedral.

Vladimir tells us that each of the marble columns comes from one piece of rock.  I have never seen so many vivid coloured marbles in one place in all my life; let alone in a church, for which I’ve lost count of the number we’ve frequented throughout our travels.

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Vivid Colours of The Marble

Interior Showing Its Opulence

Tall Ceilings With Incredible Detail

Peterhof Gardens

After Saint Issac’s we head 34 kilometers out of the city and an hour later arrive at Peterhof Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This place has stunning grounds of 4,000 hectares that are beautifully manicured, right down to the last blade of grass.   Guests to the grounds can also visit the Palace, although we didn’t enter due mainly to the cost (€16, after the entry fee of €15), and time being against us.   We will save this for next time.

The lower park, Vladimir’s favourite spot, has approximately 150 fountains and four cascades.  It takes us at least an hour or so at a fairly brisk walking pace just to make our way around and take in the surrounds.  By this time my phone battery, aka camera, was running low which forced me to take essential photos only.  That was a blessing later with fewer photos to sort out.

Looking Up Towards The Castle

Stunning Gardens!

Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

With time closing in, we head back towards the city and happened across Kronstadt Naval Cathedral. Given I had set the itinerary with my extensive research, this was an unexpected, albeit welcomed, addition to our day.

This cathedral, built between 1903 and 1913 is a temple for the fallen sailors of the Baltic Fleet.  The dome above is impressive with its 27 meters in diameter.  Inside the church Vladimir tells us that its design was based on the Hague Sophia from Turkey.  It was obvious to us the moment we stepped inside and it took us right back to our recent visit to Istanbul where this style is commonly seen in the Turkish construction.

As a child, Vladimir recounts, he would come here to enjoy the cinema.  In the Soviet days the stunning mosaics were boarded up and it wasn’t until the collapse of this regime that Vladimir appreciated what had been hidden for so many years.

During the 1917 Revolution, this church also doubled as an officers club and also a Navy Museum in 1980.

We are incredibly thankful, when reflecting on our own childhood memories, to have not encountered this level of complication and the ensuing propaganda that we were hearing for the first time from our guide.

From Outside The Kronstadt Naval Cathedral Looks Splendid

Inside This Cathedral Is Also Stunning And So Well Preserved

Imagine Being Here Seeing This In Person. The Mosiacs Are Wonderful.

With time up, we sadly head back for the ferry and talk about the political history of this interesting country.  I then realise how little I actually know about Russia and how much more there is to learn.

We enquire as to a return trip when Vladimir advises he can help us with a longer visa to extend our stay for up to one year.  Excited, I tuck this gem into my memory bank and vow to return here.

Whilst I am incredibly grateful to have an opportunity of a 72-hour visa-free stay in St Petersburg it becomes obvious that this is just the beginning.  In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger …. I’ll be back!

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72-hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood

Day 2 St Petersburg –  includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night

Day 3 St Petersburg – you are reading now, includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs

Summary: Guides, History and Costs

Summary: Guides, History and Costs

by Ruth Murdoch  |  October 2018  | St Petersburg, Russia

The final blog in the series about St Petersburg is where you will find about hiring a guide, how much they cost, if it’s compulsory and what a guide will do for you.

You will also learn some facts about St Petersburg, the history and a little about the sad and interesting past of this beautiful city.

Then to the nitty-gritty of how much our three-day trip cost, including links to booking agencies, mistakes we made in buying advanced tickets, and how much each of the tourist attractions cost.

To Hire A Guide or Not

As you may have already read, if you’ve been following this series, is that hiring a guide in St Petersburg used to be compulsory.  The requirement to be chaperoned these days has been made redundant and you are free to wander the streets by yourself.  However, with a short 72-hours or three days to visit such a vast and full city, if you wish to gain the most from your limited time then my recommendation would be to find and pay for a guide.

Why A Guide?

I had chosen a guide on the last day for two reasons, one, because I wanted to venture further out of the main city centre and would need to navigate public transport or find a guide with a car, two, because we could be dropped off at the ferry without the hassle of finding the shuttle bus somewhere in the city that the ferry line makes available.

I also have an inquisitive mind and tend to ask lots of questions.  So having a guide on the last day gave me a chance to sort out what I wanted to know and make the most of his knowledge and expertise.

How Much Do Tour Guides Charge?

As you would expect, the prices for guides vary and can start from as little as US$15 per hour upwards.  I expect that the Russians are expecting Americans to visit, hence quoting in US dollars.  One American family I spoke with on the ferry told me they paid €500 for a guide for three days.  I found this to be a little excessive.

Not all guides have a car, so think about what you want from your guide before investing in one and choosing the right person who is best for you and your circumstances.

Some guides will just drive you around, and not give much of a commentary like we experienced for the night light tour (we had a taxi driver who drove around the city at night).

Then you can pay for an agency guide, someone who is registered with the various attractions and is given priority over things like skip the line benefits.  With these guides you will be paying for the agency as well as the guide, so obviously expect them to be more expensive.

Then there is the type of guide we hired.  He is a private guide without any of the extra agency costs.  Be prepared when hiring a guide like this to pay for his entrance ticket also (however at local prices, not tourist prices).  Our guide had an identity card to prove he had residency.  We paid our guide €25 per hour which included his car (a new Mercedes ML350 4WD) and his fuel costs.

What Will A Guide Do For Me?

There are different options and different types of guides depending on if you are in a group, are a couple, or a family.  If you want someone to set your itinerary, collect you from your hotel each day, show you the sights, and deliver you back safe and sound then that can certainly be arranged.  You would possibly be best to use an agency guide for this purpose.

Or you can ask a guide for suggestions if you don’t have the time or inclination to do the research yourself.

Then there’s the option we chose.  Given I had extensively researched and set our itinerary for what we wanted to see and do, I didn’t think it was necessary to have a guide for the first two days because everything was in close walking distance to our hotel.  On the last day, however, the attractions were further out of town and I didn’t want to negotiate with local transport, purely for the fact that we had limited time.  Plus we wanted to be dropped back to the ferry terminal rather than having to lug our bags around the city to find a shuttle bus that had been pre-arranged.

Our guide was very knowledgeable and had been previously recommended to me by others who had used his services.  For me, a guide will give you much more information than you could possibly get yourself and make the short timeframe and investment of a three day visit even more enjoyable.  Plus you can ask questions and if you are anything like us, you will have about a million of them.

I suggest you Google the options and see what type of guide suits your circumstances and budget.  There is a lot of information available online.

Or else, I’m happy to share our Guide’s details if you like the sound of him.  Just email me here and I will be in touch.

Interesting and Historical Facts of St Petersburg, Russia

Saint Petersburg has changed its name throughout history more than most.   Originally known as St Petersburg, Nicholas II decided on 31 August 1914 to rename the city Petrograd as he felt that the name sounded too German like.

Then on 26 January 1924 Petrograd was renamed Leningrad after Lenin’s death.

It remained Leningrad until communism ceased in Russia on 6th September 1991, when the name changed back to its original St Petersburg.

There is also a St Petersburg is Florida, USA, so when booking your ticket just make sure you have chosen the right country!

St Petersburg was founded upon a swamp in the 17th Century.  With little sunlight, which hasn’t changed today, it was said only cabbages and turnips would grow there. It was forbidden to fell trees for fuel, so hot water was permitted just once a week.

As we drive around the guide is giving us lots of facts and figures about St Petersburg that I find rather interesting.  Here’s what I recall:

  • St Petersburg is just 315 years young (by European standards that is apparently young).
  • St Petersburg is named after St. Peter, not as many assume by Peter the Great who founded this city and who also founded the Russian navy.
  • Peter the Great studied shipbuilding in Amsterdam and wanted to model St Petersburg on the city of Amsterdam.
  • There are 65 rivers in St Petersburg with 500 bridges, 12 of which are drawbridges and go up every evening (between 1.30am and 5am) to allow for ships to pass underneath.
  • The Trinity Bridge, which spans across the Neva river, was built by the builders of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
  • This city used to be the capital, until 1712 or 1718 (depending on which source you read or hear) when the capital then changed to Moscow.
  • The population is somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 million (official stats are difficult to come by apparently).
  • In 1862 Russia sold Alaska for $7.2M because it needed the money after the war against Turkey.  Russia only later discovered Alaska was rich with oil.
  • During the second world war every second person living here died, mainly due to starvation. We learnt that sadly people were supplementing their meager food rations by boiling up wallpaper and leather into their soups and were making bread from sawdust and cardboard.
  • The average life expectancy for a male in Russia is 60 years of age. (Many factors are involved in this including war and the hard physical work undertaken by many men who work in the countryside, even today).
  • Russian slavery was only abolished in 19th century.
  • The mainstay of St. Petersburg is shipbuilding, nuclear icebreakers, and of course tourism.
  • St Petersburg is also called the ‘Venice of the North’ due to its many man-made rivers (or canals).

How so many buildings survived the bombing of the Germans is a testament to the creativity of the citizens who camouflaged important buildings with nets to prevent them becoming targets.

I for one am grateful for this foresight so that I can stand here today looking at the marvelous architecture that makes this city incredibly unique.

 

Our Costs for a Three-Day Visit to St Petersburg Russia

Before looking at our expenses you must know that we are traveling full time in our motorhome so every cent we spend is considered carefully.  You may not need to be so cost conscious.

Below are our costs, including related expenses, eg parking our motorhome safe and securely for the time we were away.

Everyone, including us now, raves about the food in St Petersburg which is AMAZING and oh so cheap, so make sure you dine out regularly.  We didn’t have time to stop for lunch (breakfast kept us going) and we packed our evening meal (some sandwiches) on the first night on the ferry to help reduce costs.

We also didn’t purchase a lot of souvenirs simply because we don’t have the capacity for such luxuries.

You can get further information on each expense in the notes table below.

Here are our costs…

NotesExpense CategoriesCosts
*(unrelated expenses, see notes below)
1Camping Ground for Motorhome Storage68.00
2Food211.12
3Alcohol39.98
4Haircuts *34.00
5Pharmacy *24.92
6Souvenirs17.99
7Attractions & Entertainment (incl. guide & taxi)519.90
8Ferry382.00
9Accommodation Puskha Inn Hotel328.87
Totals€ 1,626.78
1Rastila Camping,
GPS coordinates are N 60º12'24'' E 25º7'16''. The cost was €17 per night x 4 nights
Book here
2Three dinners average price €48, dearest [and least impressive] was on the ship @ €65. We took sandwiches for the first night on the ship to reduce costs.

Three breakfasts, average €22, dearest was on Ship €30, hotel €20.40

Note we didn’t eat lunch at all (didn't have time and breakfast was ample)
3Drinking out twice €29.60 [average €14.80]

€24.10 on ship on trip over was expensive
4Cheap for two haircuts on the ship (male €14 and female €20)
5Cheap place for prescription medicine (we had the script with us)
6Scarf €4.50 and small Russian Doll set €13.49 (called Matryoshkas). These dolls are the most recognised symbol of Russian tourism.
They are a set of traditional dolls (its origin dates back to 1890) that are hollow, and in each doll there is another and another, typically five is a common number but they have been made up to 75.
7Church of Spilled Blood €6.38 (250 RUB)

Hermitage Museum US$34.90 (€30.05). Here is where we made a mistake. We ordered the tickets online (because the research suggested this was how we could avoid huge queues). However at the end of August there were not any queues and we could have purchased tickets inside the gate from electronic kiosks. We suggest you think about the time of year you are visiting and if it’s the height of summer (July and beginning of August) then this might be worthwhile, however outside of these times we suspect it’s not necessary to pay extra. The Hermitage Museum has a number of separate entries and we didn’t ever see people lining up to go inside.

St Isaac Cathedral €9.56 including Guide's entry (at local rates)

Peterhof Gardens €26.14 including Guide's entry (at local rates)

Seaman's Church FOC – great value

St Nicholas Cathedral – FOC – we like this price

Swan Lake Ballet €279.92 To book go here http://www.GetYourGuide.com

Taxi to and from Ballet and night lights sightseeing €17.85

Guide €150 (paid in Euros, €25 per hour including vehicle)

One of the best guides I’ve come across that helps you buy tickets and to learn about the schedule is here. I wish I’d come across this before our trip.
Also if you need an extended visa, the process is here in simple to understand language.
Visa and other Resources
8Shuttle €25ea (mandatory), 3 hour bus tour €45ea (optional), Ferry €121ea includes ‘pet’ (standard) cabin 98m2 (small but adequate). To book your tickets from Helsinki Visit here
9Pushka Inn Hotel is located at Moyka river embankment, 14, Tsentralny District
We booked two nights in standard room and were given the only room with a bath (oh what a luxury). Great location, very central to the city and attractions. Would definitely stay here again. We booked using Booking.com
Or book direct here

A Work Of Art

Faberge Eggs

Matryoshkas (Russian Dolls)

Other Blogs in this Series on St Petersburg, Russia

Follow my series of blogs below to find out how we filled in our three days in St Petersburg and more…

Introduction To St Petersburg, Russia includes how we arrived into St Petersburg and from where, about the 72-hour visa-free visit, motorhome parking in Helsinki, Finland, Currency, Internet, Water, Our Expectations and Top Attractions

Day 1 St Petersburg includes the Ancient Sphinx, Rostral Columns, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Isaakievskaya Square, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood

Day 2 St Petersburg –  includes The Hermitage Museum, Swan Lake Ballet, and photos of St Petersburg by Night

Day 3 St Petersburg – you are reading now, includes Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, Kronstadt Naval Cathedral

Summary: Hiring a Guide, History and Interesting Facts, and Costs – you are reading this now.

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