St Petersburg Russia 17 to 21 August 2014

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August 24th 2014
Published: August 28th 2014
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St Petersburg Russia 17 to 21 August 2014

After a 1 1/2 hour border stop from Narva, Estonia , into Russia, plus the purchasing of 3rd party insurance on the Russian side, we were on our way to St Petersburg. We were really looking forward to this part of our journey. With no maps on the GPS of Russia (we were unsuccessful at down loading our purchased Russian maps for our Garmen GPS in Estonia due to poor internet connection), very basic paper map and my phone with Google maps, we headed east. We had the name of a camp site about 28km from the CBD, so fingers crossed.

The roads weren't too bad. We had read so much about the poor roads, but we could also see that there had been a lot of road works completed. The drivers were OK but we certainly saw that speed had increased by all the drivers, and as we were going around a RH bend, a car coming the other way had cut the corner. The road was wide so no problems, and we always make sure we keep to our RH line.

As we got closer to the camp site the maps on the phone were the saviour. Just as I was unsure of the next turn, Tom spotted a camping sign and 5 minutes more, we were there. A block at the boom gates let us through by giving us a bit of paper with the time and date we arrived. The Camping Baltic Parking site was associated with a really new Hotel & Conference centre next to the Konstantine Palace in Strelna.

There were 2 other vehicles (a motor home from GB and will never believe it, a 4x4 Nissan with WA number plates from Freemantle. Ten minutes later, the owners arrived back. It turns out that they (Jenifer & Justin) live 2 streets away from Adam's unit he used to own in Freemantle. How cool is that?

From then until 1.00am, (except when we had dinner in the Conference Centre Restaurant) we chatted. The 2nd night we chatted to 12MN! They had imported their vehicle in through Vladivostok and had been travelling west (in a squiggly sort of way!) since April and plan to travel for as long as the money lasts. Next for them was Europe. They have had a real adventure, and for people in their 40s, what a great experience. They were so much fun to be with and we swapped many stories. They gave us lots of info on Moscow and St Petersburg and we gave them info on Estonia (and the link to my blog). And it was so good to talk to some Aussies...who understood our sense of humour etc.

Jen is a bit of a wiz with technology so one night she helped Tom download the Russian maps on the GPS. They also gave us a laminated sheet which had the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet (not sure if I spelt that correctly). That was really helpful.

The 1st full day in St Petersburg, we got into the city by 11.30am. Many of you will know that St Petersburg was formerly known as Petrograd, and later Leningrad. It took an hour to get in using the bus and then Metro. Their transport system is pretty slick. As soon as we got off at the Nevsky Prospect station we were over whelmed at what we saw....amazing buildings everywhere.

I saw St Petersburg described as "This is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth, and virtually any building in the large historic centre, threaded with canals dotted with baroque bridges, can be considered an attraction—and indeed, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a magical city, with a long list of major attractions"...... and I agree with this description

After I give you an overview of what we did I will describe the venues that we visited, at the end of this blog.

We 1st visited Kazan Cathedral and then had lunch. In the afternoon we visited the amazing Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood (which is the one with multi coloured onion-shaped domes), and many other churches, monuments, and historic buildings (see photos).

At 5.00pm we went on a River Nava and canal boat cruise. What a beautiful site, with the waterways lined with amazing architecture. The wealth and the opulence was dripping off these buildings. We started to wonder about the lack of wealth of the general community! It was an hour boat trip and it gave us a great overview of the immediate city.

We then found a restaurant which had different chiefs cooking a variety of foods from different countries. We obviously didn't look Russian so a very helpful waiter took us around, speaking beautiful English, and explained the foods. It was very good to sit down because we had walked loooong distances between special points of interests.

The next day we visited the Hermitage. Well, if we thought we saw wealth yesterday, we didn't see anything compared to what we saw at the Hermitage. After lining up for 10 minutes and then Tom found an automatic ticket office and we then walked straight in, we first walked up this massive multileveled, red-carpeted, wide staircase. For those who have visited the Versailles in France and Schonbrunn Palaces in Vienna (without the detailed furnishings). Some also throw in the Louvre in Paris. Quite incredible.

Our very helpful people at the camp site looked up details of ballet performances in the city and so we had info on where to go and how to get tickets. After we walked around the city more we found a lovely restaurant with a beautiful menu and over a red wine, had dinner before going to the ballet to see Swan Lake at the Mikhailovskiy Theatre. The exterior is not as recognizable as the Mariinsky, but the interior is nearly as grand, and the theatre hosts both Russian and foreign headliners in opera and ballet.

After the performance and as it was 11.00pm and dark, we went to St Isaac's Cathedral and walked up the 400 steps to the top of the colonnade and got a beautiful view of the city lit up. Spectacular!! We got home at 1.30am and crashed into bed.

Next day we visited the Peter & Paul's Fortress before going back to the camp site, picking up our motor home and driving to Peterhof. Oh my gosh...that was stunning with its 100s of waterfalls and statues. I hope you enjoy the photos. We asked our friendly camp site people the directions to Peterhof. Before we left they wanted to take our photo with our motor home and interview us. She had worked at the Hotel for 10 months and wanted to increase the number of motor homes etc using the Park. She wanted to ask how her site compared with European sites and how and why we decided to travel as we were. She asked some interesting questions.

After the visit to Peterhof gardens, we went to a 24 hour supermarket to stock our fridge as the next day we were driving to Moscow.

The next morning (21/8) left St Petersburg at about 10.00am. Even though we spent 3 days in the city, we know we only skimmed the surface of the history, parks, arts, and architecture of this beautiful city.

Here is a bit of info about some of the sites we visited:

1. The Hermitage Museum/The Winter Palace is Saint Petersburg's prime attraction, a massive palace-museum showing the highlights of a collection of over 3,000,000 pieces spanning the globe. The Hermitage is truly one of the world's great museums, with an imposing setting displaying priceless works by Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and more.

2. Peter and Paul Fortress. This is a large area island and the historic nuclear of St Petersburg and its major architectural landmark. The fortress was built in1703 to secure Russia's hold on the Neva Delta as a military fortification. It was never required for the purpose of what it was built for and was soon turned into a prison (we visited the prison cells/museum section). The most striking structure within the 2 kms of wall around the island fortress, is the Cathedral which is the tallest building in the city (except for the TV Tower). This houses the tombs of all of the Romanov Czars of Russia from Peter the Great (bar two or three), including the last Czar, Nicholas 2 and his family, although they are in the St Catherine Chapel on the side of the Cathedral. Its spire is topped with an angel holding a cross.

3. Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, is a traditional style Russian church built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The interior is elaborately decorated with over 6000sqm of mosaics.

4. Our-Lady-of-Kazan Cathedral is an impressive neoclassical exterior, richly decorated interior. Includes the tomb of Gen. Kutuzov, hero of the war of 1812.

5. Saint Isaac's Cathedral, which was built in 1818 and is a major attraction in the city. It is the third highest cupola cathedral in the world.

6. Theban Sphinxes, which are two granite sphinxes which are three thousand years older than the city itself! They were excavated in 1820 in the temple of Amenhotep III near Thebes. Upon seeing them, the Russian writer and diplomat Muravyev wrote to the Tsar, and convinced him to purchase the statues for display in Petersburg. They were installed in 1834. Oddly enough, sphinxes seem to be popular in the city - there are another six made by Russian sculptors lurking about.

Additional photos below
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