I know you are supposed to save the best for last, but let’s start off with a bang! My favorite spot so far is St. Petersburg, Russia . I spent two days there and absolutely fell in love! We took a cruise through the Baltic Sea and this was one of our ports. Two days is not enough and I dream about going back for an extended stay. The upside with taking a cruise is that the cruise company assists you in coordinating your travel pass. Russia requires a travel visa to step foot on their soil. Long bureaucratic story short, you have to be processed ahead of time and formally “invited” to visit their country. There are even travel sites set up to assist you with the process. With all that red tape of applying for a pass, I expected Russia to be a rough place to visit. I am happy to say I was completely wrong! Yes, the immigration women – tough Russian women who gave us the stink eye when reviewing our papers – were a little intimidating. We were told that if we did not have our pass or lost it, they would detain us. But once you got your little red day pass, it was all smiles, welcoming guides, beautiful museums, gorgeous architecture, and rich history.
The Hermitage Museum was gorgeous! A must see if you go, but expect a long wait to get inside. Unless you are a part of a tour group – no wait! Dozens of rooms filled with original Da Vinci’s (smaller in real life), Rembrandt’s (look for paintings with hands very defined), and other beautiful works of art. Students from local art schools set up easels and paint replicas which is a neat process to watch.
We also visited Peterhof Palace . Considered the “Russian Versailles”, this was one of Peter the Great’s homes. Beautiful grand palace with several smaller palaces on site, gorgeous gardens, and cascading water fountains to die for. None of the fountains use pumps, by the way. Thanks to the topography of the site, water flows downward and creates enough pressure to power the fountains. The fountains were so gorgeous and amazing as we viewed them from inside the grand palace, that I was edging to get outside to see them from the gardens. They were OFF when we finally made it to the lower gardens. Thank you to whomever hit the off button as we were walking outside. Through the windows of the palace they were quite the site.
St. Petersburg is in no shortage of beautiful cathedrals. St. Isaac’s Cathedral has a gorgeous dome within which at the very top is a floating dove, in honor of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is a location where many dignified families are buried. Tsar Nicholas II (Anastasia’s father) and his family are buried here. The Church on Spilt Blood is quite the site to see with its amazing mosaic pieces adorning its exterior. If you only can visit one holy structure, choose this last one. Breathtaking!
We enjoyed a boat ride along the Neva River that gave us wonderful views of the City’s grand architecture. Each building was vibrantly painted in “happy” colors. Sophia indicated that there was a ruling requiring all buildings be painted in delightful shades. If their goal was to be more welcoming and charming, they certainly won me over.
Silly Stacey Story: To keep the serenity at the various sites we visited, tour guides provide head sets and speak into a small microphone. This means if you can’t hear your guide anymore, you’ve wandered too far. One of our fellow cruisers approached Sophia, our young attractive Russian liaison, and asked her what she likes to do for fun at night – in a suggestive tone. Thanks to her mic, the entire group got here this lovely gentlemen whisper to her. We were in an opulent ballroom at Peterhof, but I had to quietly laugh. His patient wife leaned over to me and said, Can you believe we’ve been married for over 30 years?
The Weather: We were there in July and it was in the 60’s (Fahrenheit). For a So Cal girl, that might sound a little chilly, but it was humid. It’s warmer than you think. I still suggest a light jacket or sweater just in case. And if you have hair like mine, humidity makes for unwanted volume. For those ladies prone to frizz, I recommend a hat.
The Food: Food was great! I have to apologize right now – the food was like a beef stroganoff, but I actually don’t know what it was (stupid American moment, perhaps). And everything came with a side of Vodka. My kind of place! I must say that no matter where we ate, there was a band playing Kalinka in the background. Nothing like your meal with a side of folk music and fervent dancing. Never heard the song? After you go to St.Petersburg, it will play in your head every time you look at your pictures. I say that lovingly.
Regrets: We walked for two days, almost nine hours a day, winding through all the amazing streets and sites. Ultimately, we were too pooped to hit up the night life. At the time, we were in our twenties and that’s sort of a sin. Honestly, we loved our experience so much we want to see more of the day life AND finally hit up the nightlife. At least dinner on the town.
Links I like:
http://www.hermitagemuseum.org (click on English, of course)
And when you are not traveling and just want a furry friend to snuggle up with, consider a rescue pug (okay, it doesn’t have to be a pug, but doggy adoption is a great way to go!):