St. Petersburg

by Lauren on September 19, 2012

Even through the haze of jetlag, St. Petersburg was a marvelous city to behold. It marked the start of my summer adventure in Russia, and the cultural warm-up prior to my summit of Mount Elbrus, the tallest mountain in all of Europe. Our first stop on the tour was the State Hermitage Museum, affectionately referred to as the Hermitage.

The Hermitage is gigantic, comprised of five main buildings housing works of Rembrandt, Picasso, Matisse, along with Renaissance and Impressionistic styles… to name just a few. Similar to the Musée du Louvre, the Hermitage is best visited over the course of a few days.

Several hours were enough to overwhelm a tired visitor, but also to dazzle. The Winter Palace houses most of the art work, and was originally designed as a royal residence when commissioned in 1754. It alone has more than 100 staircases, and is the largest building in the Hermitage.

Below is The Armorial Hall, originally used for ceremonial purposes. It was opulent, and tourists encircled the fluted columns to stare in awe at the chandeliers.

Similar to the historical timelines of comparable palaces, the Winter Palace was destroyed by fire in the 19th century, and subsequently rebuilt.

In the picture below, the floor is actually a mosaic, and not a painting. Such detail everywhere you turned.

I’ve always had a soft spot for European sculpture, and the following piece in particular met us as our group was coming around a corner.

She was seemingly lighting our way…

Unfortunately we had a schedule to keep and couldn’t spend the rest of the day in the Hermitage.

And so we emerged from the Winter Palace and directly onto Palace Square. Seeing as the Winter Palace is such a prominent and beautiful fixture, it was only fitting that the square be named after it.

In the middle of the square is the Alexander Column, designed by a French architect in the early 19th century. The column is made of red granite, which was originally transported by barge from Finland. Most notably, the column was erected without the aid of modern machinery. Instead, it was lifted into place by manpower alone. In fact, it was positioned so well on its base that there are no supports needed to keep it in place.

Before visiting Russia, I had dreamed of seeing the colorful domes adorning the cathedrals. For a girl with a major sweet tooth, they always reminded me of candy.

Lucky for us our next stop was the Church on Spilt Blood. The domes rose high against the summer sky and seemed slightly clownish, yet stately. Where on earth does the name come from? According to Russian history, the church was erected on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.

A visit to the inside revealed medieval-styled architecture with more square meters of mosaics than any other church in the world.

On the topic of blood, we next visited a site frequented by millions of tourists. The Aurora is Russia’s oldest commissioned naval ship, first launched in 1900. It weighs in at over 7000 tons. Soon after entering the water, the Aurora was involved in the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-1905, participating in the Battle of Tsushima.

Our young tour guide was a nice young lad named Marcus. He was tall and lean, wearing jeans that were too big for his body. Had I met him under other circumstances, I would have thought he was a farmer from Idaho. A scholarly guy, he was excited about our next stop, the Peter and Paul Fortress (Petropavlovskaya Krepost).

Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, the fortress was then intended to protect the capital. Within the fortress is the spectacular Peter and Paul Cathedral, whose golden spire rose 400 feet into the air.

Wrapping up our tour, we enjoyed a quiet afternoon along the Neva River. The river is short, at just over 40 miles long, and is impassable in the winter months due to ice. We found it a popular place for tourists and locals alike.

This young girl, along with her family, was perched on stairs leading directly into the river. One certainly got the sense that Russians enjoyed being in the outdoors. Hundreds lined the banks of the river, where we (and she) were perched.

And who can end a tour without a delicious Russian pastry? This one appeared French, but what did it matter. I would take a Russian chocolate éclair over vodka any day.

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Siân September 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos of your time in St Petersburg.

You’re right about the Hermitage being completely overwhelming….I used to go every week for a short visit to see a few of the rooms at a time (there are only so many works by Leonardo/Titian/Picasso one can take in during a single visit). Even after doing this for the 6 months I lived in St Petersburg, I still don’t think I saw everything in there! It’s just so huge.

Looking at these images has made me realise how much I’d like to take a trip back soon.

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