My trip to Saint Petersburg was not business related (for once) but personal. As the visa to Russia was so expensive, and it was valid for a whole month, it made perfect sense for me to put to use some of my accumulated hotel points and travel to this city that I had long heard to be more beautiful than Moscow and to find a non-smoking, new hotel (in contrast to my unfortunate experiences with the Moscow hotel
that I relate on another webpage). As I had worked solidly over the Easter holidays, I was due some time off (well I work most weekends and holidays anyway so I was more than due, really) and I was looking forward to some down time, some me time, some fresh air and sunny skies.
I was in fact lucky with the hotel, the weather and the safe metro system and it was only my lack of Russian that made me trust too much in the incorrect information of others. My lack of Russian also prevented me from realising that there was a grocery store right next to my hotel, knowledge that might have prevented me from spending several hundred roubles in the somewhat expensive hotel restaurant.
The day after my arrival here was a Sunday, so I headed off with a few roubles in my pocket to take the direct line of the metro from my hotel to Nevsky Prospekt, which I had been told by my concierge was the centre of town. As I headed down this street toward the river I turned my head to look at the Griboyedov Canal (photo 1) and the first wonder I beheld was the Cathedral of the Resurrection (photo 2), one of the three orthodox churches recommended for visiting and the concierge's favourite. It was to become my favourite too, but as this was only day one, I was not to know the secret splendours that were inside. I merely saw the entry price of 320 roubles and backed off, contenting myself merely with taking photos of the outside. I also approached the actors outside dressed up in 17th or 18th century garb but they wanted 100 roubles per photo. As this was beyond my budget as well, I turned back down toward Nevsky Prospekt after visiting the souvenir market behind the church (photos 3 and 4). All along the walls of the buildings flanking this canal were works of art (photos 5 and 79) - I supposed made accessible to the people who could not afford to visit the Russian Museum or the Hermitage, whose entrance fee I had been told was more than my taxi fare from the airport had been! I later learned these were copies of the actual art works in these museums. Pity, but still, the copies were nice to look at despite being exposed daily to sun and other types of inclement weather.
I decided it would perhaps be a good idea at this point to buy a guide book as the maps themselves were not telling me much about the crosses my concierge had made on them. So I ventured into the House of Books, the city's largest book shop I read, in an art deco building constructed for Singer sewing machine company (photo 6) and picked up a small guide book cum map for about CDN$10. Once this was in my hands I was able to figure out that the huge church across the road was the Kazan Cathedral. Here I was threefold lucky as entrance was free, there was a public wedding going on and there was a wedding photographer and someone else with a camera whose flash was going off sporadically so I thought I might just try and get some non-flash photos somewhat surreptitiously so as not to disturb the headkerchiefed women lighting their candles (photos 7 to 11) which explains why the photos are not perfectly straight! (because I was taking them surreptitiously without putting my eye to the view finder.)
I then walked down Admiralteisky Prospekt across the front of the Admiralty Building toward St. Isaac's Cathedral. However, as this was another paid entry, I made do once again with taking photos from the outside (photo 12). My next stop was the Palace Square (photos 13 to 22) in front of the Winter Palace a.k.a. the Hermitage Museum. I took a few photos on the square where people were picnicking, roller-blading, cycling, taking horse-drawn carriage rides round the circumference and posing with a different set of actors. I'm glad I had my long lens with me!
Next I headed out to the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island, photographing the two Rostral Columns (photos 23 and 25) and the Peter and Paul Fortress I was headed toward (photos 24 and 26). As I walked around the perimeter of the fortress on the sandy beach (yes sandy beach!) I came upon a most incongruous sight, people leaning against the wall of the fortress in various states of undress suntanning - in April! in Russia! Note, that while walking along Nevsky Prospekt a couple of hours before, I had been following pedestrians in fur caps, boots and long, warm winter coats! Even the police were wearing bear fur hats, so this sight was completely unexpected. And these were not what you might call the beautiful people of a somewhat younger and sillier age, but mature adults with various types of bodies as you will see. Granted there was sun, and it did seem to be turning their bodies brown, so maybe these were professional suntanners. Who'd have believed me had I not taken the photos (27 to 29), I ask you.
I then ducked inside the walls of the fortress to see the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, once again deterred from entering due to the fee they charged. I would have liked to have gone in because this is where the body of the murdered Czar Nicholas II as well as those of some of his royal ancestors have been laid to rest (photos 30 to 32). Photo 33 is of a statue of Peter the Great sitting, but there is surely something wrong in the proportions - the legs too long, the head too small perhaps?
Photo 34 is a lamp over the bridge coming off the island on which the fortress is built. I next headed toward the Congregational mosque, the northernmost mosque in the world, apparently. Beautifully coloured (photos 35 and 36), but of course closed to non-Moslems such as myself. After visiting the site of the Romanovs I kept running into little boys in sailor uniforms (photo 37) that reminded me of Czarevich Alexei, or at least the depiction of him in that great 1971 film Nicholas and Alexandria
. The next boy I photographed (photo 38) was kicking a football against another St Petersburg work of art, to my horror, but I knew no Russian to say “Cease and desist your desecration!”
The sun was starting to lower in the sky giving me the chance to take some great shots of a clipper in silhouette on the Neva River (photos 39 and 40). The last photo of the day (41) was taken from the bottom of an escalator in the St Petersburg Metro. This is a somewhat shorter escalator that lasts 45 seconds from top to bottom (or bottom to top depending on the direction in which you take it, of course) but some of the escalators in this city's underground transportation system take over 3 minutes! Yes, I actually timed them as I was so amazed at the length. Imagine spending 6 minutes travelling up and down an escalator as part of your daily commute!
On Monday, I headed out again, this time to a different part of Saint Petersburg proper, first to the Monastery of St. Alexander Nevsky (photos 42 to 47). I had had to change lines in the metro twice and the only way to see anything once I'd arrived was to pay the entry fees, so I handed over a total of 330 roubles to enter the monastery (but was told no photos were allowed to be taken inside the church or of the monks) and then the graveyards. Due to my restriction of no photos inside the church, I took advantage of the possibility of photographing the graveyards of which there were two sections, one for the famous people, which was well spread out and well kept up, and the other for the not-so-famous, which was overcrowded and rather worse for wear. In the “famous” section I managed to decipher the names of Dostoevsky (photo 48), Tchaikovsky (49), Borodin (50), Balakirev (51), Mussorgsky (52), Archangelsky (53), Arensky (54) and Kuinji (56). The other section is represented in photos 61 and 62.
Then I changed metro lines twice more to travel to the Liteiny Section, which also entailed a long walk above ground. The jewel in this section was the Smolny Convent of the Resurrection (photos 63 and 64) and, next door to it, the Smolny Institute, both now used as museums. I did not enter either of them. During the long walk on the way back, I photographed a typical stop sign (photo 65) (It took me a while to figure that one out as it was not the usual red hexagonal shape found in most other countries of the world) and how the news is brought to the public (photo 66). I suppose in this way the city provides news for people who do not want to, or can not afford to, buy their own newspaper. I had seen similar displays of accessible daily news in China. Photo 67 shows how you can grab a fruit snack on your way to or from the subway station. These glass booths with fruit displayed on the inside were ubiquitous, yet unusual to me.
On my last day in Saint Petersburg, I had hoped to visit Peterhof or another great palace with gardens outside of the city, but there were no tours going there and neither the hovercraft to Peterhof from down town nor the fountains at Peterhof itself operate until May, I read. Moreover, with Spring here being later than in my hometown, I did not hold out much hope of seeing any gardens here at their best in April. I shall have to make sure that the next time I am in this area of the world it is sometime during the summer months so as to take full advantage of the beauties to be observed.
Consequently, on Tuesday I decided to visit some of the areas I had missed on Sunday and perhaps see what all the fuss was about regarding the Cathedral of the Resurrection, which had been my first stop on Sunday. I headed back to Nevsky Prospekt and to the Palace Square entering it this time from the General Staff Building arcade (photo 68). I then turned up Millionaya Street where an artist was painting her rendition of the canal (photo 69), so I thought I'd take my own photograph of the view she was admiring (photo 70) and another out toward the Neva River (photo 71). Saint Petersburg certainly has some great water for reflections! Then I stopped at the Field of Mars to photograph the eternal flame and continued on to the Mikhailovsky Castle, another Monument to Peter the Great (photo 74), one to Pushkin (photo 75) at Arts Square in front of the State Russian Museum and the Russian Ethnographic Museum, and finally to the Cathedral also known as Our Saviour on the Spilt Blood (photos 76 to 78).
Luckily, I still had some roubles left and paid the entry fee, and wow am I ever glad I did. The interiors were so amazing I had one of those moments when you are feeling true bliss. And to top off my high, you were allowed to take as many photos as you liked, no holds barred. Well you can understand I was in photographic heaven. I have so many photos from this Cathedral visit, I decided I would make a new web page purely dedicated to its interiors
, so that if you're not into gorgeous mosaics you don't have to suffer here. On the other hand, if you love them as I did you can get your fill of them as I did. Of course the photos cannot possibly convey the immense awe of being there in person, but perhaps they will inspire you to visit this delightful place yourself some day.