Three Days in St. Petersburg

One of Europe’s greatest tourist sites, and one that lives up to the hype.


Three Days in St. Petersburg

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Wasatch on July 7, 2006

Peter the Great built St. Petersburg in the 18th Century to be the great capital of the great Russian Empire.
For 300 years, St. Petersburg, not Moscow, was the seat of government.

Day 1: Morning trip to The Hermitage. It is not clear exactly what the Hermitage is. Simply put, it is one
of world’s greatest art museums-- 350 rooms, 2,700,000 works of art– but it is also more than that. It
consists of 1, 2, 3, or 4 buildings, depending on how you want to count. The Winter Palace, now part of the
Hermitage, displays art in the grand rooms of the Tsar’s official home. The decor overwhelms the art. The
Large Hermitage was built by the Tsars as an art museum. The Hermitage Theater is only used for
performances. Our guided tour took through the most of the major palace rooms and works of art– Da
Vinci, Renoir, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Rubens- but if you want to see all the grand palace rooms,
abandon the tour.

Afternoon bus tour of St Petersburg, with a number of photo op stops, and a visit to a souvenir shop near
the university- very attractive prices.

Day 2: Morning tour to Peterhof. One of our group’s four busses took over four hours to return 15 miles
to St Petersburg.

That afternoon’s 75 minute Canal Boat tour was a highlight of the trip. This is the way to see St
Petersburg. I wish it had been longer.

Day 3. Morning tour of Catherine’s Palace in the nearby town of Pushkin. This is a “don’t miss” while in
St Petersburg. By now, I had lost track of how many palaces the Tsars had, but this was their favorite.

We had a choice of optional tours or free time for our last afternoon in St Petersburg. While she packed
for the return home, I ventured into the city via metro. This was an experience, and it has or will have its
own “Experience” Review, “Getting Around”.

That evening, we went to the ballet at the Hermitage Theater, built by Catherine the Great.
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The Hermitage

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Wasatch on July 7, 2006

Simply put, the Hermitage is one of world’s great art museums-- 350 rooms, 2,700,000 works of art– but it
is more than that. It consists of 1, 2, 3, or 4 buildings, depending on how you want to count. The Winter
Palace, now part of the Hermitage, displays art in the grand rooms of the Tsar’s official home. The decor
overwhelms the art. The Large Hermitage was built by the Tsars as an art museum. The Hermitage
Theater is only used for performances. Our guided tour took through the most of the major palace rooms
and works of art– Da Vinci, Renoir, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Rubens- but if you want to see all the
grand palace rooms, abandon the tour.

The entrance to the Hermitage is on the embankment, in the Winter Palace. Facing ahead upon entering,
restrooms are in the far left corner. The entrance lobby also has a coat check, ticket booth, and café. After
passing through the turnstile, the museum proper is entered on the second floor at the top of the Jordan
Staircase, one of the few parts of the Palace untouched by later remodeling. The Jordan Staircase is one of
the architectural highlights of the Palace. Don’t rush.

At the top of the spectacular baroque Jordan Staircase, the only remaining originally decorated room in the
Hermitage, are the State Rooms, which make Louis XIV’s Versailles look plain.

Rm 227 is a copy of The Vatican Palace’s remarkable Raphael Loggia. Since the Vatican Palace is not
open to tourists, give this a look.

The State Rooms and the Tsar’s quarters of the Palace contain many works of art, as well as stunning
architecture, and, unfortunately, crowds of tourists. Our tour guide commented on how lucky we were to
have come so early in the season as the crowds were the smallest she had ever seen. For us, it was the most
crowded museum we had ever seen.

Guided tours hit most of the grand rooms and the most famous works of art- Renoir, Monet, Rembrandt, di
Vinci, Michelangelo, Rubens. If you go on your own, you must have a floor plan because the museum
occupies five buildings and displays nearly 3,000,000 works (one minute per item, 7 days a week, 8 hours
a day, and you finish in 15 years). The Blue Guide has an excellent one and 20 pages of small print
describing what’s where.

If you are on a bus tour that takes the standard two hour trip through the Hermitage and you want to stay
longer, as your tour director is you can stay behind and be picked up by the bus on the way back after it
finishes the rest of its itinerary. Our tour director (MS Tolstoy) did this for a number of people.

The Hermitage has an excellent English language web site.
Winter Palace/State Hermitage Museum
Palace Embankment, On The Neva River
St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof Palace and Gardens

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Wasatch on July 7, 2006

Peterhof, the Tsar’s summer place on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, is about 15 miles west of St
Petersburg. Peterhof consists of 7-8 palaces and churches set in a large park, English garden on the ocean
side of the Great Palace, a French garden on the other side. Our tour took us through Catherine Palace (not
to be confused with THE Catherine Palace in the town of Pushkin), because, according to the guide, there
was not enough time to tour the Great Palace. In addition, we saw the Great Cascade and the English
garden with its fountains and follies. If I had to do over, I would leave the tour and go through the Great
Palace and visit the Grand Cascade, which is next to the Great Palace. Catherine’s Palace was too modest.
I’d rather see the Grand Palaces ostentatious display of gold and velvet.

Restoration of WWII damage to the Grand Palace is only about half finished. By contrast, there was no
damage or looting of the palace after the Communist Revolution because the revolutionary government
quickly declared Russians great historic buildings and museums to be protected property, to preserve the
nation’s heritage, but I suspect it more to have the Tsar’s extravagance on hand to show to the common
folks to justify the revolution.

The star of the show is the Grand Cascade, with its gold plated fountains on the Gulf of Finland side of the
Grand Palace. There are a number of other fountains and flower gardens scattered around the park.

This Catherine Palace has a number of small richly decorated, but by Tsarist standards, far from elaborate,
rooms.

Restrooms are in and around the parking lot, 10 rubles.

Peterhof Palace and Gardens
Petrodvorets
St. Petersburg, Russia

Catherine Palace

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Wasatch on July 7, 2006

This is a “don’t miss” while in St Petersburg. By now, I had lost track of how many palaces the Tsars
had, but this was their favorite. The entrance is through the main door in the front of the 900 ft blue and
white long facade of the main palace.

The first room visited is the aptly named “Grand Hall’, with a short concert, CDs, $20. The star of
Catherine’s Palace (named for Peter the Great’s Wife, Catherine I, not for Catherine the Great, Catherine
II). Two dinning rooms are next, each set up for a state diner. Next are the ruby(red) and emerald(green)
gaming rooms. Tradition has it that gambling debts in the first were to be paid with rubies and with
emeralds in the second.

The star of the palace, and one of the grandest rooms anywhere, is the Amber Room, where all the walls
are covered with amber mosaic decorations. Also note the two pictures in amber frames. These are also
mosaics, not paintings. The German Army occupied Catherine’s Palace during The Great Patriotic War
(WW II). After the German retreat from St Petersburg, the Amber room had disappeared. The KGB
searched for the room for 45 years without luck. Finally, a reproduction was made, being completed in
2003. There are several photos in the palace with pre-post WW II scenes showing the destruction caused
by the war.

Next are the state apartments. Our tour then went downstairs through a series of servant rooms lined with
before and after photos of WWII damage. Germans say the palace was destroyed by Russian artillery, the
Russians say the Nazis blew it up when they retreated.

The tour ends in a extensive gift shop.

The palace and several out buildings are located in park about 1.5 miles across. Both the front and back of
the place face French gardens, with a larger English garden beyond the formal garden outside the palace
courtyard.

There is a free and decent restroom across the entrance lobby opposite the gift shop.
Catherine Palace
Pushkin
St. Petersburg, Russia

Pickpocket Defenses and Personal Safety

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Wasatch on July 7, 2006

Russia, especially the big cities, are dangerous for minorities. Anyone who does not look Caucasian should only travel with a group. Otherwise, personal safety is a little worse than in most large cities, except for pickpockets.

Pickpockets are endemic in St Peterburg and a real problem in several other European cities. On our first trip to Prague, our Cruise Director, in warning the passengers about the pickpocket problem, said that he had brought 50 tours to Prague, and not once had there been a trip where a pickpocket did not steal at least one passport. On the other hand, he said a single woman could walk any street in Prague alone in the middle of the night without fear.

Pickpocket defenses: MEN leave your wallet in the ship or hotel’s safe. Put the valuables– passport, money, credit cards, etc– you need in a small wallet like pouch that hangs around your neck and tucks inside your shirt. Take it out of your shirt only when you need something in it. Have nothing in your pants pockets. As for backpacks, they can open a backpack without you ever knowing it. Cameras– keep them well attached by heavy duty straps. In cool weather, keep everything you are carrying inside your jacket, but not in the pockets. Cash can also be divide up by tucking some inside your sock, above the pants cuff, on the inside of your leg. I have a shirt with a zipper pocket in the armpit, which has worked well so far, but it was a rare find.

LADIES: Follow the instructions for men. If you must carry a purse-- a bad idea– take on with a strap long enough that you can sling over your head and carry the purse under the opposite arm The strap must be heavy enough that a sharp knife cannot cut it easily. Carol carries a small purse with a long thick leather strap, and so far, so good.

When on the metro, bus, tram, etc., never leave your purse or any packages out of your hands. Put them on your lap, and wrap both arms around them.

Before your trip, check the web sites for the US State Department and UK Foreign Office for the latest advice on personal saftey when traveling overseas.


Restrooms

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Wasatch on July 7, 2006

The usual sources of tourist information have dire news about public restrooms in Russia. On the whole,
we found the facilities better than we expected.

Some charged a fee, 5-8 rubles (20-30 cents). Many were free. All were clean, but many look shabby.
They ranged from squat toilets* to Austrian quality.**

Be on the lookout for the location of the toilet paper. It was quite common for there to be a single roll for
the entire restroom located somewhere outside the stalls. You have to tear off what you think you will use
and take it into the stalls with you. Error on the generous side. Remember to check– this is not a lesson
you want to learn the hard way, or perhaps I should say, the messy way.

All our a bus tours included restroom stops, ranging across the full gambit of quality per above. If you are
on your own, look to McDonald’s or the lobbies of the better hotels.

The larger tour buses are toilet equipped, but we were not encouraged to use them. At least some were
locked, necessitating a request to the bus driver through the tour guide to open the thing.

Always carry a pocket/purse pack of Kleenex and Immodium.

If you are changing planes at the Frankfurt airport, be sure to visit one of their restrooms and watch what
happens when you flush the toilet– it washes and dries the seat.

WC is widely used as an identifier in the tourist zones. A Russian letter than sort of looks like an X with a
vertical line through the center often is used to mark the ladies room, as is a symbol that looks like an
upside down V (a skirt). In Russian, look desperate and say, "twah-let".


* The stall contains a hole in the floor with two raised footrests on either side. Squat and let loose.
** We have found on our travels that Austria has, on average, the nicest public restrooms of any country.


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