A Weekend in St. Petersburg, Russia
This summer, I had the super cool opportunity to take a few classes abroad. One of the classes that I took was Doing Business in Russia, part of which was taught in St. Petersburg. Even though I would only be there for a weekend, I was incredibly excited to visit Russia, mostly because I had such limited knowledge about the country: its customs, traditions, political system, economic climate, etc. Most of what I knew about the country was pretty biased and negative (based on American media), so I was pumped to experience it firsthand. I also was clueless when it came to the language (whether it be spoken or written) so it would be an adventure getting around the city without knowing any basic Russian.
Walking through St. Petersburg
Our first official meal in St. Petersburg was lunch. We had chicken with a beet puree and potatoes.
Soup that came with our lunch
A really delicious salad with tomato, spinach, celery and bell pepper
Traditional Russian dumplings with olive oil, cilantro, chives and a side of sour cream
We arrived in St. Petersburg via train from Finland early Friday morning and immediately had class for like 4-5 hours. Afterwards, we were given some free time to grab a quick dinner and walk around the city. The above snapshots are from our first day in St. Petersburg, strolling through the city's streets and of our first meals in Russia. Right away, I really loved the city's architecture; it was a city consumed with so much history- made apparent though its beautiful, antiquated and bright buildings. Common themes utilized in Russian architecture were columns, colorful mosaics, onion domes (like the tips of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, pictured below) and granite/stone... all components that blended together beautifully.
St. Petersburg was busy and packed with people both on its sidewalks and highways (coming from Finland, where most streets were empty, I felt a bit overwhelmed haha). Russian hospitality was also absolutely great, I had nothing but pleasant and welcoming experiences with every local that I encountered. Our tour guide was especially helpful and accommodating when taking our class to different parts of the city; she made sure each student was well taken care of.
Arriving to St. Petersburg! Right after our train ride
St. Petersburg is actually know as the "Venice" of Russia because of its various canals that flow throughout the city. Our university had planned a cruise for us the first night we arrived to kind of introduce us to the city. It was literally one of the coolest ways to spend our first day in Russia, St. Petersburg on the water is beautiful at night! Below are some pictures from the cruise.
Everyone from our class taking a group picture on the boat
Early morning Saturday, we went to The State Hermitage Museum, one of the largest and oldest museums in the world (it is the third largest art museum, globally). It was exciting getting to go to this popular attraction with our class and learning more about the history of St. Petersburg and Russia through the thousands of art pieces displayed within the museum. The bulk of the museum's collection is housed in the Winter Palace (blue building pictured below) which was formerly the official residence of the Romanov Tsars (until about 1917). The palace was built in 1732.
Traditional matryoshka dolls sold outside of the museum- also known as Russian nesting dolls
Walking into the museum
With my friend Rachel, admiring some art
One of my favorite hallways in the museum
The Pavilion Hall- Arguably one of the most beautiful rooms in the museum
Picture in the Pavilion Hall (apparently, this is my favorite pose....lol)
Madonna and the Child- a piece by Leonardo Da Vinci
After visiting Hermitage, a group of us went on a walking food tour. This was one of my favorite activities (heh!). We tried bliny (think crepes- both in savory and sweet flavors), borscht (beet soup), stuffed dumplings, pirog ( Russian pie with either a sweet or savory filling), pyshky ( a pastry similar to donuts) and caviar. All were pretty delicious but my favorite dishes were the bliny, pirog, and pyshky.
In between walking from restaurant to restaurant, we stopped by the super famous Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and St. Isaac's Cathedral.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The architecture is breath-taking
One of my favorite buildings in St. Petersburg
The above two pictures are of pyshky from Cafe Pyshechnaya. At Pyshechnaya, the experience is supposed to be similar to that of visiting a café in Soviet Russia- minimal décor, long lines, a very limited menu (only about 3 items on it- coffee, tea or pyshky) and ridiculously cheap prices. It felt like we had taken a step back in time and it was fun to feel as though we experienced a bit of the Soviet Union through this café. For two pyshy and a coffee, I think I paid about $00.80- $.1.00.
The currency in Russia is called the ruble, and one american dollar is equivalent to about 64 rubles, so your dollar goes a bit far there.
The pies were so tasty! My favorite was a savory pie with mushroom and spinach filling, although the blueberry filling was delicious as well.
Beef Stroganoff that we had at an authentic Russian dinner that our university planned for us (separate from the food tour)
Standing in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral
Unfortunately, because our stay in St. Petersburg was so short, and we wanted to have time to do and see everything on our list, we did not get to enter the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood or St. Isaac's Cathedral. However, that just gives me all the more reason to return to this beautiful city!
A few of my classmates and I had done some prior research on which sites to see in St. Petersburg and we had our hearts set on visiting the Peterhof Palace. With the cruise and class planned for all day Friday, Hermitage and the walking food tour planned for Saturday, the only time we would be able to visit the palace would be Sunday morning. The problem was that Peterhof was actually located about 45 minutes outside of the city and we were scheduled to leave St. Petersburg by train that day at 3 PM.
Standing in front of the palace
The entrance of the palace
My classmates and I decided to get up super early Sunday morning, check out of our hotel by 8 am, take a taxi and arrive to the palace by 9 am. We left our luggage at the hotel, which our tour guide made sure would be loaded onboard the bus that would take the rest of our class (and their belongings) to the train station... and we planned to be back by 2 pm (to meet up with the rest of our group). On an average Sunday, this would be no issue, but this particular weekend, Vladimir Putin would be in St. Petersburg and a parade was being held in his honor. Our guide warned us of the bad traffic we might encounter leaving and re-entering the city, but we took the chance and decided to go anyway.
When we arrived to Peterhof, we were so grateful we made time to see the palace. It was fascinating and, hands-down, one of the most beautifully constructed buildings I had ever seen.
The Lower Gardens- an expansive area. The above picture only captures a small part of it.
Short Background on the Palace: Peterhof was originally built in the early 1700's and inspired by Versailles in France. At the time, Peter the Great wanted to create a similar palace in Russia as a celebration of the country's imperialism and expansion (and to prove that Russia was just as grand as Western Europe). The palace was almost completely destroyed by German troops during World War II but was immediately reconstructed and reopened to the public in 1945. Today, some argue that Peterhof is even more beautiful and extravagant than Versailles.
The Grand Cascade water show
The palace was truly impressive, my pictures do NOT do it any justice. Similarly, the Grand Cascade water show (pictured above) with its captivating fountains, is a site to see in person and well worth the trek outside the city. If you go, make sure to look up the times of the water show so you do not miss the spectacle. The Grand Cascade is located at the back side of the palace, and impossible to miss.
Overall, I loved my short but eventful trip to Russia! I would go back in a heart beat and visit several cities throughout the country. It is such a vast and diverse nation with so much to offer and see. I'm thankful I got to explore a small piece of it, and look forward to the day I can return and learn about/experience even more of the country.