After our fabulous eggs Benedict breakfast at our hotel Lotte in Saint Petersburg, we were really looking forward to getting out and beginning our Saint Petersburgh tour. Saint Petersburg had been on both Jonathan and my bucket list for a very long time. We met with our guide Elena and driver Alexey from Strelka Travel in the hotel lobby. They laughed when we greeted them with our terrible Russian but Elena said, their hearts melt like ice cream when tourists try to speak a few words of Russian. I think that was meant to be a compliment!
St. Isaac’s Square
Before setting out by car, we took a gentle stroll through St. Isaac’s Square which the Hotel Lotte overlooks. We couldn’t believe what a great location our hotel was in – right in the historic heart of the city.
Saint Issacs Square is one of St. Petersburg’s main squares and the imposing St Isaac’s Cathedral is the fourth largest cathedral in the world (depending on how you measure). Fortunately, because of its huge golden dome that dominates the city’s skyline, it meant that we could always find our way back to our hotel – a great landmark.
In the centre of the square, was a giant iron statue of Tsar Nicholas I dressed in his gala uniform riding a horse and on the opposite side of the square, was the Mariinsky Palace which was a gift from Nicholas I to his daughter, Maria Nikolayevna. Wow, so much history and we were just getting started!
From here, we continued our Saint Petersburg tour by car and drove over to Vasilevskiy Island, home to St Petersburg State University, one of the oldest and one of the best universities in Russia. It was founded in 1724 by Peter the Great.
To the east of Vasilevskiy island lies the Strelka (yes, like the travel company) which offers fantastic views of the Hermitage, St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Admiralty and the Peter and Paul Fortress. We stopped here for a while to take photos, admire the scenery, learn a little more about the fascinating history of St Petersburg and of course, do a little bit of souvenir shopping. I love those Russian dolls!
Peter and Paul Fortress
The Peter and Paul Fortress is known as the birthplace of St Petersburg as it was the first building to be constructed in the city. It was initially built to act as a defence but too late, it was defeated by the Swedes before the construction was completed. Up until 1917, it had been used as a prison. One of the first prisoners here was Peter the Great’s son who was imprisoned, tortured and killed for betraying his father.
Located close to the Strelka, we noticed some very strange looking columns with ship parts sticking out of the sides. These are the Rostral Columns. The columns are 32 metres high and adorned with ships’ prows and four sculptures which represent the four main rivers of Russia. During the 1800s, they were used as navigation beacons and on major holidays such as New Years and Victory Day, the beacons are lit, sending seven-metre flames into the sky. That would be really cool to see!
Petrogradsky Island and the Cruiser Aurora
From Vasilevskiy Island, we crossed over to Petrogradsky Island where the Cruiser Aurora is moored. The ship just looked like a normal warship and we wondered why we had stopped there, totally unaware of its historical significance. But from this ship, on the night of October 25, 1917, a shot was fired at the Winter Palace. This shot was the signal for soldiers, sailors and workers to storm the palace and that was the very moment that triggered the start of 70 years of Communism leadership in Russia. Ah, so that’s why we stopped. It had played rather an important role in recent history!
As we drove across the island, we passed a cute little stone house, very unassuming and very different to some of the more lavish homes in the city. Unfortunately, because it was tucked away behind trees, it was difficult to get a photo but this was Peter’s Cabin. Peter’s Cabin is one of the oldest buildings in St Petersburg, built for Peter to live in while he supervised the building of his city.
Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
From Peter’s place, we headed once more across the Neva River, passed the Mars Field with its eternal flame, although the view of the eternal flame was obstructed by a tour bus, before stopping to visit the stunning Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood. This beautiful church was built on the spot where in March 1881, Alexander II was mortally wounded when a bomb was thrown at his royal carriage. The church is well worth a visit for its incredible artwork and mosaics. It was beautiful. Remember to look up, the artwork on the ceiling is amazing.
Entrance fee for the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Adults – 250 Russian Rubles approx $4
Children – 50 Russian Rubles
Opening Hours for the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Daily except Wednesday. Open 10.30 to 18:00. From May until September, it is open until 22:30.
After a full morning of exploring with the very knowledgeable Elena, we stopped for a traditional Russian lunch at a local restaurant. Soup and dumplings, perfect for a chilly day.
Next stop, the world-famous Hermitage Museum.
No tour to Saint Petersburg would be complete without a visit to the Hermitage. The Hermitage Museum is the most visited attraction by visitors to St Petersburg. It’s enormous, and it’s impossible to see everything in one visit. They say if you spent a minute at every exhibit, it would take you at least eleven years to see everything. Yes, it really is that large. It’s a good idea to have a guide to show you the highlights, and we were pleased that our guide Elena from Strelka Travel was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about art.
Most of the Hermitage collection can be found in what was once the official residence of the Romanov Tsars, the Winter Palace. Much of the artwork was bought by Catherine the Great from European aristocracy, but some were from confiscated goods by the Bolshevik and seized assets from Germany by the Red Army. As well as admiring the various works of art, it was fascinating to see the extravagantly decorated state rooms of the Romanov Tsars.
After spending a few hours exploring the museum, we stepped outside into the Palace Square. Apparently, in 2009, Madonna held a concert in Palace Square and that’s how they know the Square can comfortably hold 80,000 people!
After a great day exploring St Petersburg, we headed back to Hotel Lotte to relax. Later we went out to Rubinstein Street to explore the city’s many bars, cafes and restaurants. We have another tour of Saint Petersburg tomorrow! The city so far has completely exceeded our expectations!
Day Two of Our Saint Petersburg, Russia Tour
After such a great tour of Saint Petersburg, Russia the day before, we couldn’t wait to get out and discover some more of the city’s delights. Rain had been forecast for today, but yes, that was definitely blue sky and sunshine we could see peeking through the clouds!
We rose early to enjoy our hotel Lotte’s fabulous buffet breakfast. Before we came to Russia, we had this preconceived idea that Russian food really wasn’t going to be up too much. We thought with all the walking we do when we travel, we would easily be able to lose a few unwanted kilos. So wrong! From what we have tasted so far, it looks like we were going to be seriously piling on the kilos instead!
Visit to Yusupov Palace
At 10:30 am, we continued our Saint Petersburg tour and set off with our guide Elena for a short walk alongside the river to the Yusupov Palace. The Yusupov Palace belonged to the incredibly wealthy Yusupov family and is just one of a few aristocratic homes left in St Petersburg which still has most of its original interior. Now this is where having an excellent guide like Elena from Strelka Travel comes in handy 1) because she’s just a mindful of information and stories and 2) most of the signage in the Yusupov Palace is written only in Russian, although audio guides in English and other languages were available.
The inside of the palace was quite stunning with many of the rooms painted in different styles, with beautiful ornate chandeliers, frescoes, and tapestries. Yusupov Palace even features a stunning ornate Rocco theatre which still shows productions today – that would be so cool to see!
Murder of Rasputin
But it’s not all beautiful rooms that you have come to see here. The Palace has a gruesome history. This is where Rasputin was murdered! There are many legends and stories of what exactly happened that night on 16 December 1916. The exhibition that is shown in the basement of Yusupov Palace is based on the fascinating autobiography of Prince Felix Yusupov who was one of the conspirators in the initial poisoning of Rasputin. Apparently, Rasputin was taking too long to die by poisoning from potassium chloride so was shot eleven times but somehow he still managed to survive. Finally using clubs, they hurled his body into the icy river where he died from hypothermia or did he?
The way our guide Elena described the story was far better than I could ever do, but it was a fascinating story and well worth seeing. It was a very cool exhibition.
A year later, Yusupov Palace was seized by the Bolsheviks.
We left the Palace and continued our tour of Saint Petersburg with Elena our guide and me singing and humming along to Boney M’s Rasputin, well you would. Wouldn’t you?
RA RA RASPUTIN
Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
RA RA RASPUTIN
Russia’s greatest love machine
He drank it all, and he said: “I feel fine.”
RA RA RASPUTIN
Lover of the Russian queen
They didn’t quit, they wanted his head
RA RA RASPUTIN
Russia’s greatest love machine
And so they shot him till he was dead.
Jonathan denied all knowledge of ever hearing that song.
Admit it, you’ve started humming it too now! If you haven’t seen it watch the video and you will.
Private Saint Petersburg Tour By Riverboat
As we strolled down by the river, wondering what was in store for us next. A canal riverboat pulled up beside us and off we all went. Wow, we didn’t expect that. It was warm enough to sit up on deck and admire the beautiful buildings from the water. We even cruised right by our Hotel Lotte. Getting an entirely different perspective of St Petersburg was lovely.
Lunch Overlooking Nevsky Prospekt
After such a great time exploring, we were ready to eat again, unbelievable really after the amount we ate earlier. We had a late lunch at the Terassa, which is a popular rooftop restaurant located on one of St Petersburg’s tallest buildings overlooking Nevsky Prospekt – the city’s main shopping street and Kazanskiy Cathedral.
After a scrumptious late lunch, we had a few hours left to explore the city by ourselves. St Petersburg is such a picturesque city, far more beautiful than we had expected. We felt perfectly safe walking by ourselves and with the iconic dome of St Issacs’s Cathedral always in view. It was impossible to get lost.
But sadly our tour of Saint Petersburg was coming to an end, but a new adventure was about to begin. Next stop, the famous Red Arrow night train from St Petersburg to Moscow!