Going solo to Russia can be a daunting experience and the thought of this can put people off. Especially if you do not speak the language and are not using a tour guide to assist you.
This is exactly what I did, so equipped with my camera, passport, roubles and my very limited Russian vocabulary, consisting of only three words да (yes), нет (no) and спасибо (thank you) I got on a plane to St Petersburg.
My flight landed at Pulkovo Airport at 14:50 and as I got off I saw a taxi desk and I enquired if they could take me to the Hotel Rus. They gave me the colour of the car and its registration. As I leave to head for my taxi to enter arrivals only to see that no one was waiting for me was to say the least a bit disappointing, but I still had the taxi driver to welcome me to Russia. As we drove to my hotel, I was amazed at seeing the wonderful and beautiful architecture of the buildings and streets.
The Hotel Rus is in a very good location but looks like something out of the old soviet times, I was greeted by some friendly staff that spoke reasonable English, which most of the staff did during my stay. The room was outdated and very small but I did not plan on being in my room for much of my stay, especially with St Petersburg having what they call, “White Nights” (“Beliye Nochi”). This is where the daylight lasts longer.
So I decided I would go exploring the city of St Petersburg on my own. I noticed on the pavements stencilled artwork everywhere, advertising companies and products. This seemed to be a regular thing along the streets.
I arrived at the Transfiguration Cathedral on Transfiguration Square, Liteyny Prospekt, I stayed for the sermon which was well worth listening too. This cathedral is very popular and is visited by many. As I watched on at the sermon as people came and go to show their respect and blessings. They are happy for photos to be taken of the cathedral but only when the sermon has finished for the day, usually around 9pm. The interior of the cathedral has many interesting regimental relics.
I walked everywhere! Miles and miles around the city. Of course you can use taxi’s to get about but I wanted to see all the scenery that you don’t get to see sitting in a taxi. Also taxi’s can cost you a fortune and can eat into your budget if you only have a limited amount of funds. I got lost a few times and that made it all the more fun of exploring St Petersburg and asking the locals for directions was helpful and helped in my limited Russian vocabulary.
St Petersburg has many places to eat if you don’t want the local foods so you have the usual McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, Burger King and Subways. However if you want to try something different then my favourite places were Piter and Bush (буше).
I have a story of ordering in Piter for the first time when I went to this restaurant I had a waitress that did not speak very much English and of course, as I said before, I only had my three word vocabulary of Russian. So I tried to order and ended up ordering 5 dishes from the menu, needless to say, I did not feel hungry after all the food I had eaten. You learn from your mistakes, as I had pointed at items on the menu and the waitress was jotting down everything I pointed at, thinking I wanted this and that. And when I looked at the starter and main I wanted, and pointed at them, I thought she was agreeing with me that she had understood my order and not that she had all of those items on my order. It was not a bad thing as I did get to try many different dishes, but just all at once was a challenge in itself.
The bronze horseman statue of Peter the Great, created by the famous French sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet in the Senate Square. I seen a lot of people getting married in front of this statue. You can see the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral from the Senate Square. There are lots of people dressed up for you to have your photo with for a small fee of course! This seems to be the trend now in most countries, for the tourists.
One of the most magnificent sights to see is St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the largest Cathedral in Russia. I highly recommend going up the Colonnade to see all of St Petersburg, as long as you do not mind the heights. The view from the Colonnade is spectacular and a sight worth seeing for 150 roubles.
I decided I would visit my friend Sabina in Gatchina to see Gatchina Park and The Palace. So rather than take a taxi, I wanted to use any of the public transport on offer to me, like the metro, even just to see the architecture of the stations. So I headed for Chernyshevskaya and paid my 45 roubles one way at the ticket office for a little token to use on the turnstiles. I had to use two stops to get to Moscovskaya for a bus number 18 to Gatchina, which cost 88 roubles one way.
The beautiful views at Gatchina Park is breath-taking with its large lakes which are a sight to see. I strolled over the hump back bridge and saw the old oak tree. The Grand Palace and Park at Gatchina feels like it is ignored by the usual tour groups and is a lovely scenery and unique Palace in Russian history to see.
In St Petersburg they have something called roof excursions, where you go to a particular location in the city and you get to go up on top of some of the highest roof tops to look out over St Petersburg. I went to one located in Ligovsky Prospekt. Doing this late in the evening when the sun is going down is magical.
The Hermitage Museum and The Winter Palace is so vast in size at Palace Square. The museum is closed on Mondays and costs 700 roubles for admission. I was lucky to see the new exhibits Porcelain Flowers by Vladimir Kanevsky and Nefertari and the Valley of the Queens. From the Museo Egizio, Turin. I was told if you looked at everything in the Museum for two seconds each, it would take you 7 years to get around the museum. I did not put this into practice but I did go in at 10:30am and not leave till 5pm. It is best to get there very early as I got there at 9:30am and the queue for admission was already very long.
One of my favourite museums that I have visited is The Russian State Museum that has a vast amount of Russian artwork. I did not find this museum very crowded so it allowed me to view the beautiful paintings, tapestries and statues at my own leisure.
You cannot visit St. Petersburg without seeing The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. It is truly very beautiful inside and outside. With a small admission fee of 150 roubles it is well worth it. The stunning interior of the church is just breathtaking. It is walking distance from The Russian State Museum. The church is situated near The Griboedov Canal which is lovely to walk along.
I have always wanted to see the famous Faberge Eggs and this was well worth going to the museum and seeing the craftmanship of the beautiful Eggs. The museum which is in Shuvalov Palace has 9 of the famous Imperial Easter Eggs and has a vast amount of other treasures from Russian jewellers and silversmiths. So I bought my ticket and put on my little plastic bag boots over my shoes and made my way up the stairs to the start of the museum. My favourite was the Bay Tree Easter Egg.
Everyone I spoke to or made contact with was friendly and helpful and some even went out of there way to help me, even if they couldn’t speak English.
Galeria Shopping Mall is a modern shopping mall in the centre of St Petersburg has a large amount of shops and restaurants from well known brands like H&M and Levi’s. I tried to look for a souvenir from Russia, so decided on a t-shirt made only in Russia and came across Trailhead to purchase my new item of clothing.
I fell in love with this beautiful city and the wonderful people I met along the way during my travels around St Petersburg.
I am now learning Russian and will return to see some of the sights I did not see during the seven days of my trip.