St. Petersburg

Last summer we went to St. Petersburg for a short visit of five days. We took the train from Helsinki, a very convenient and comfortable way to travel to this Russian city that you reach in about three hours. We had found a centrally located hotel, near the Hermitage museum. The lines outside the museum were incredibly long but we realized that there were special booths where you could purchase your ticket automatically with cash without having to wait at all. Once you had your ticket, you just walked right in, right past the lines. The Hermitage art collection is spectacular. It is simply impossible to see everything in just one day. We walked through the corridors and explored the exhibition halls until our feet were aching. 

The area around the museum is attractive with flowers of all different colors blooming. With the water that surrounds the city and the parks and flowers, all that green, with the addition of a constant breeze, the heat was quite bearable. It never felt oppressive even when it reached over 30 degrees Celsius. 

On one of the days we took a ferry boat to go visit the magnificent villa, Peterhof, on the Gulf of Finland. The Czar Peter the Great had built this Imperial Palace, or the Russian Versailles, that subsequently became the Imperial residence of Nicholas I.  The impressive palace is surrounded by an attractive park where you can admire a variety of imaginative fountains that keep the area fresh and cool even in the summer heat.

The best way to explore the city is by foot. You can easily walk from the churches to museums to parks and gardens.

The canals – which seem (and are) if not quite replicas of the canals in Venice and Amsterdam, are at least influenced by the them – contribute to the overall impression of St. Petersburg being a European, rather than Russian, city. I have heard that Moscow, instead, looks very “Russian”. The buildings in St. Petersburg are modeled after those in Vienna, or others after Venetian palazzos, which gives an idea of a fascinating mix of Europe exhibited in one place.

 If you only have five-six days, it will be enough to explore the city but it means fully packed days of sightseeing. When our five days were over, I was quite glad to go home. There is only that much of Russia you can absorb at a time.

Definitely worth a visit. And St. Petersburg, in my opinion, belongs to that group of sites that you should visit rather soon before it changes too much as a consequence of globalisation.  Right now it still has that Russian charm of the days gone by.

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