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Published: August 28th 2017
We had no problems with our flight to St. Petersburg.
We were a little apprehensive about going to Russia as in the Scandinavian countries we knew that English was spoken as a second language and it would be easy to ask for directions and information on transport options from the airport to hotels. But we were not even sure if using ATM’s to get currency would be straight forward here and we knew that signs would be in Cyrillic and that few Russians would know English. So, this was an experience that has not really happened for many years, that of arriving in a very foreign environment.
However, our fears were allayed when we spotted a MacDonald’s and Starbuck cafes at the airport. In fact, one of the disappointing things about travel these days is that retail is mostly the same the world over. All the international brands, and not just the designer stores, are in every major city; Subway, Burger King, Ikea, Mothercare, H&M etc etc. However, just to be on the safe side and so we did not get lost, we took a 45min taxi ride into the city.
Our first observation, from the air, was that housing appeared to be in groups of tall tower blocks of apartments. We did not see any streets with ordinary houses with gardens. So, for instance there may be 30+ towers in a complex that would include a small shopping centre and park.
Our hotel could not have been more central. We were one street away from the main river and probably 400 meters from the Hermitage Museum (Winter Palace) which is one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.
St Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great as a fortress to defend against Swedish attacks and it became the capital of Russia in 1712. To celebrate the Russian victory against Napoleon in 1812 large scale architectural works were constructed. And today the buildings are protected by UNESCO World Heritage. The city is sometimes compared to Amsterdam and Venice as the city is built around a network of canals and rivers.
We had arrived at our hotel late in the afternoon. After checking in we dumped our bags and crossed the road to walk via the magnificent Admiralty
At the Palace Square
building (yellow) complex to get a quick sight of the Hermitage (green). We wandered down to the river and could see from the banks other buildings painted in brilliant colours and gold domes of churches.
There were many restaurants close by to our hotel and we chose one that appeared to have a larger selection of local cuisine than some others. I ordered a Borscht soup and Joyce had meatballs. I enjoyed my soup but it was spoilt, after I had eaten it, when Joyce reminded me that the soup was made with beetroot which is the one food in this world I detest!
The next day we wandered around the central city streets and cris-crossed the narrow canals. Every corner we turned, it seemed, there was another magnificent statue, building, church or cathedral. I won’t try and describe all what we saw but will provide the photos.
I will, however, mention a couple of stores that are in Nevisky St, the main thorough-fare and shopping street, as they are not of particular historical significance but were really interesting.
The House of Books (Dom Knigi) was built by
Public entrance 1852-1917
the Singer sewing machine company in 1902 and has a glass dome on a conical tower. The other is an opulent food store come tea room/café. This was originally a wine shop when it opened in 1813 but was re-designed in 1901.
The metro (underground) had beautiful stations with brilliant artworks and sculptures adorning them. In fact guide books recommend that tourists take time out to visit a number of them. The system is built quite deep with the platforms accessed by very long escalators. At the bottom of these (and in Moscow too) was a glass booth in which sat a middle- aged woman over 50 years (usually) whose job it was too ensure that there is no misbehaviour on the escalator. Rules include: standing still (not walking) and holding onto the hand rail. Failure to abide by these rules leaves you open to 10 years hard labour in a Siberian Gulag!
We spent 4 days/5 nights here and we could have easily made it a week as there was so much to see. Being on a coach tour or visiting via cruise ship for a day or two just cannot do justice
to this city.
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