Saint Petersburg


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Our first stop in Russia on our 2004 Baltic tour was Saint Petersburg, at the far east of the Gulf of Finland. St Petersburg was known as Leningrad from Lenin's death in 1924 until the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was also called Petrograd for a decade prior to that, but during Tsarist times as now it was named after St Peter. Like all great cities, it is built on a swamp; there are canals criss-crossing the city and the tap water is undrinkable.

We stayed for three nights in St Petersburg in June, when the weather wasn't cold but wasn't very warm either, we arrived from Finland in a shower of rain. We stayed at the Nord Hostel, run by a lady called Marsha, which was as central as we could possible hope for, being just around the corner from the Winter Palace.

Winter Palace

The Winter Palace was built during Tsarist times to be their residence during winter, while St Petersburg was the capital of Russia. It now houses the State Hermitage museum, a vast collection of over three million items, some of the world's greatest art and treasures. We gained free entry with our student IDs and spent a day exploring what we could. To see the whole place would have required two or three days.

One of the most grand staircases in the palace, the Jordan Staircase is all gold and marble and normally swarming with people. I stalled whilst exiting at closing time to get this picture when it was more peaceful. It reminded me of a wedding cake.

Jordan Staircase


Inside one of the galleries of the State Hermitage Museum. As well as being one of the world's largest museums, rivalling those of London or Paris, it is also one of the world's oldest, having been open to the public since 1852.

Cool columns outside the Hermitage, these are properly known as Atlantes, the plural of Atlas, who held the world on his shoulders. Note the weedy tourists for scale.

Atlantes columns

General Staff Building

The General Staff Building faces the Winter Palace, and between the two is the broad Palace Square, which was being set up for a Paul McCartney concert at the time. Our hostel was just on the other side of the arch.

St Isaac's Cathedral stands by the River Neva just next to the Winter Palace. We climbed up to the collonade and walked around the dome, from which you get a very good view of the city. As with many other tourist attractions in Russia, you had to pay extra to take photos, or risk having your camera relieved of you. It is the only cathedral I have seen with double glazing, and ranks in size close to St Peter's in Rome.

St Isaac's Cathedral

St Petersburg Canal

One of the many canals which cross St Petersburg, this is one of the larger ones. The entire canal network is frozen over for the winter months. I recognised some of this from James Bond's tank chasing escapades in "Goldeneye".

The cruiser Aurora remains moored on the River Neva in the same spot she sat when firing the opening shot of the Russian Revolution in 1917. She now operates as a museum ship.

Cruiser Aurora

Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress is the original fort of St Petersburg, with construction underway almost as soon as the city was founded in 1703, relatively recently by European standards. The fortress now mostly houses the museum of the history of the city.

The golden spire of Peter and Paul Cathedral is the tallest in the centre of the city at over four hundred feet. Its iconic image appears on the fifty ruble banknote.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Beach on the River Neva

A Russian inner-city beach, looking across from the Peter and Paul Fortress, towards the south bank of the Neva River. The Winter Palace lines most of the river front, with St Isaac's cathedral in the distance. One might even expect to see Rasputin floating by. During winter it's possible to walk straight over the ice from here to the Winter Palace.

Nevsky Prospect is the main street of St Petersburg, we walked much of its length from the station to our hostel. It also hosts the Stroganoff Palace, which served us platefuls of the classic dish, tasty if not particularly warm or generous.

Nevsky Prospect

Admiralty Building and fountain

St Petersburg is famous for its fountains, frozen in winter but splendid in summer. This is the fountain in front of the Admiralty Building, former headquarters of the Imperial Russian Navy.

A more unusual attraction in St Petersburg during the "White Nights" of the summer when it doesn't get completely dark, is the raising of the bridges each night at about 1:30 am. They stay open for a few hours to allow ships to pass, but driving from one half of the city to the other is rendered impossible during this time. The sides of the river were crammed with people, mostly Russian tourists, watching the spectacle.

Bridge opening at midnight

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood was built to mimic St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, and was constructed on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, hence the blood reference. I took this photo around three in the morning with the sky lightening nicely - I didn't pass this way during the day time.

A closing shot of the glorious Winter Palace, in as much of the dead of night as could be achieved in the Russian mid-summer.

Winter Palace at night

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