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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