Pulkovo Observatory, Sablino Caves, and Two Transport Museums

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October 4th 2015
Published: October 8th 2015
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This entry introduces you to four interesting sights in the city of St. Petersburg and its environs: the Pulkovo Observatory Museum, the Sablino cave, the Museum of City Electric Transport and the Museum of Railroad Vehicles.

On September 24th I and my wife went on an excursion to the Pulkovo Observatory. I had bought the tickets via an excursion website in advance. The decision to visit the observatory came after we had watched a couple of popular scientific films about the Universe, the Sun, and our planet. Those topics are unbearably interesting and thought-provoking.

Individual persons will not be able to visit the museum (not without a guide), I’m afraid. But I think it is possible to do so by paying the full price as for a group.

We first went to Moskovskaya metro station and from there took a bus to Gatchina, one of the stops of which is the Pulkovo Observatory. It is very close to the city, actually only a few kilometers away from the city’s ring road. What’s a pleasant bonus, from that point one can observe airplanes flying to and from the Pulkovo Airport. Also, from the point opened a panorama of the apartment buildings on the city’s border.

Our group was met by the guide who took us to the museum and told the whole history of the observatory since the times of Peter the Great. We saw some artifacts, photos of cosmic objects, parts of some telescopes and other scientific equipment. We also ascended one of the domes where we saw the 26-inch refractor telescope installed in 1954, and some more panorama of the city with beautiful skies and multi-coloured autumn trees around. We then left the building and went to see another telescope.

The overall appearance of the place was Soviet-like and I thought their funding was very scarce. Nothing was brand new or large-scale but still the scientists are working there and making scientific contributions (an All-Russian space conference with international participants was taking place in one of the buildings). Of course, the location of telescopes in the vicinity of such a large city as St. Petersburg is not a perfect choice due to the interference of city’s lights and other adverse effects.

The final item we saw was the Large Pulkovo Radiotelescope, the prototype of the world’s largest radiotelescope RATAN-600, built in 1956. For an outsider, it looks like a curious fence in the form of a hemisphere on a grass field, but actually it is a radiotelescope and it Receives Emissions. It is also used for studying of the Sun. Well, I was of course thinking, NASA’s museums and telescopes must be all brand new and IMMENSE.

October 4th

I had first heard about Sablino caves in 2007 or 2008. I never considered them a seriously interesting sight worth a visit, because they are man-made and they are not deep. However, this time I decided to finally pay respect to it (I went together with my wife on a guided tour with Pervye Linii Company). We departed at 10 o’clock in the morning and arrived to the site in 45 or 50 minutes (the village near the cave is called Ulyanovka, but the locals often call it Sablino, as the cave). It can be reached by local transport (there is a railway station in the village).

Officially, the Sablino natural monument is an ensemble of natural and historical sites in the Leningrad Region. The preserved area comprises two waterfalls, canyons of Sablinka and Tosna Rivers with outcrops of Cambrian and Ordovician rocks, several man-made caves, ancient burial mounds, and the camp site of Alexander Nevsky before the battles against Swedes.

Our group was met by the cave guide who took us below the ground. It was dark there with occasional lamps and very low ceiling in many places. Ceiling couldn’t be high there anyway. Its colour was brown and beige mostly. Its name is ‘Levoberezhnaya’, meaning ‘on the left bank’. It is under protection can be only visited in the company of a speleologist guide. The length of its passages is about five kilometers.

The caves are abandoned underground workings for extraction of quartz sand used for the production of glass, dating back to the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The Russian capital, Petersburg, during those times was rapidly developing and needed lots of glass. With the course of time, the extraction was performed no longer and the abandoned workings collapsed and were flooded in some places. Nature can both create and destroy things, and it is very good at destroying things made by humans.

Another interesting fact about the cave is that is is a wintering ground for bats. The cave is under protection and so are the bats: they will not be molested underground during the hibernation. Even when tourist groups come they are requested to make as little noise as possible and refrain from taking photos when they see bats. We actually saw two bats in the cave’s hall used as an underground chapel, and our guide asked us to leave soon. If too many people start making too much noise the bats will consider their customary wintering ground unsafe and will have to move to some other caves which are not protected. The bats cannot be disturbed during hibernation as they won’t find any food in winter.

Then we went to the Sablinsky Waterfall on Sablinka River. Its height is from two to four meters and it looks very small but in a picturesque setting. The second waterfall, Tosnensky, is on Tosna River, and it is much wider, louder, and carries lots of water. The water eats away the soil so that the waterfall is slowly retreating. I think its canyon will also become deeper and deeper as time passes by.

On October 7th I went to the the Museum of City Electric Transport and the Museum of Railroad Vehicles. My visits to other Petersburg museums have been described earlier. It was extremely cold and I didn’t put my jacket on. I had to hurry everywhere and warm up inside buildings or in the bus and metro.

The electric transport museum presents the development of Petersburg electric transport, its exhibits are operable trams and trolleybuses publicly used in the city previously but not used at present. The museum was established in 1997. It is inside a building on the territory of a former tram park. The museum also features archive documents and photos, maps, ticket punches and original cash registers. When the so-called ticket validators were in use, I was a little boy but I remember them dimly. The museum also offers guided excursions and a short drive on one of the old trams. There’s an exhibit of a bus which the locals used to call ‘Natashka’ (Natalie), as the designation of its model contained the letter ‘N’. It is allowed to enter most of the exhibits.

After the museum I took a bus to the nearest metro station (Sportivnaya) and from there went to the Baltic Station in the vicinity of which is another transport museum, the open-air museum of railroad vehicles. I was dreadfully cold and my camera battery died (I forgot to charge it) so I decided to go home and return on the next day. I liked the museum so much I didn’t complain about the need to return there.

I returned to the museum on October 8th with fully charged batteries and warmly dressed so the visit was a success. They are now building a new railway museum which is planned to be the largest in Russia by 2017 and so some of the exhibits are now undergoing restoration right on the spot.

I saw locomotives, steam locomotives, diesel-electric locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, and military vehicles. They were manufactured both in Russia and abroad). Two very interesting specimens were the artillery mount with a very long and huge barrel operated in the Soviet-Finnish war and the missile train which, as far as I remember, carried nuclear warheads. Such trains were decommissioned in the 90-ies, I think, but I have read that they will be reintroduced into the Russian defence system. It looks rather imposing.

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