Palaces and churches
Out to explore a new city.
The rain had stopped. But a full blanket of cloud was covering the sky, making for a dull day.
We headed back onto the main Nevsky Prospeckt, the road we had walked along last night. And carried on, heading west. The whole length of the road is 4km. But we had walked much of it last night. And The road took us straight to the Palace Square.
The square is a large empty space, the bright blue Hermitage covers one edge. The curved General Staff building on the opposite side. In the middle is a 50m high column, topped with a statue of Alexander I, which was designed in 1834.
The State Hermitage Museum is housed in various old palaces, including the Winter Palace. It has over 3 million items, a fraction of which are displayed across it’s 360 rooms across five linked buildings. Apparently the rest is stored in its vaults.
Entering was confusing. I had pre bought tickets. Which is more expensive, but apparently saves you queuing. Following the signs for ‘internet tickets’ seemed to take us to a small ticket booth area. But after a short queue, apparently that was wrong. They pointed us back out of the building and we spotted different signs, taking us further around the building. A completely different entrance. We had to leave our coats. No queue here, we walked right in. And straight into an Egyptian display. Random. I thought we were in Russia.
After coming to grips with the map of the enormous building, we navigated our way to the winter palace portion of the buildings. And the Jordan staircase. This is a large staircase, winding upwards and built in the 18th century out of white marble. This was the entranceway to palace for official visitors. We had arrived just as several tour groups had arrived. It was chaotic. All pushing up the red carpet, to the upper level. In a room full of gold.
From here, we made our way through the Palace rooms. A throne room. Several corridors. A large painting of Nepolian. Rooms full of marble vases. Lots of gold and grandeur. The Pavilion hall was the busiest room. Completely white and gold. Mosaics on the floor. And the main attraction – the peacock clock. A gold peacock statue. It only moves at 7pm on a Wednesday evening, once per week.
As we headed out of this room, the windows were facing out towards the ocean. And the Peter and Paul fort. It was 12pm and the cannon went off. From here, we wandered lots and lots of rooms. We did a whole loop of the first floor. Past paintings, tapestries, armour, silver plates and centre pieces, crockery and tables. The map had certain things marked on it – we aimed for most of those. One was Da Vinci’s madonna and child, which had crowds of people around it. We wandered around for nearly 3 hours. And then took a while to find the exit!
It was now 2pm and after leaving, we made our way along the canal. Past rows of buildings and several gardens. We passed across the summer garden. Apparently st Petersburg’s nicest park, designed in the 18the century. Perhaps we are a bit early, as it was just grey, and trees with no leaves. Just across the bridge and we found the cafe we were aiming for – Botanika. A vegetarian restaurant.
It was very old fashioned inside, but cute. And a very full menu. I had to force myself not to order my standard; falafel or curry. And I ordered a Russian soup – Borscht. It was a red liquid, full of beetroot, carrot, potato and kidney beans. It was so tasty. We also ordered some banana bread with a cashew cream. It came in a small ceramic pot, random. But was really delicious.
Back outside into the cold and we retraced ourselves back towards the Church on the Spilled Blood.
This church has five domes and is the city’s most elaborate church. It is similar to the church in Moscow on red square, with coloured domes, but not quite as pretty. It cost 250 rubles (£3.40) each to go inside. And inside, every single surface was completely covered in coloured mosaics. All showing pictures. 7,000 square meters of mosaics. It took 24 years to build and after years of neglect during the soviet period, another 27 years to restore! It was a completely different design to any church I’ve been to before.
Just outside the church, lining the canal were lots of little stalls. We passed through these and made our way to another church. The Kazan cathedral. From the outside, this doesn’t look like a church at all. A central building, with a large single dome, then to each side, two sets of columns. It looked more like an old official building. But this is an Orthodox Christian church. It is neoclassical design and inside is dark. The 80m high dome is painted grey inside. It wasn’t colourful, or ornate like the others. And very confusing instructions – there was a sign saying no hats. But every single person had their heads covered, either with a scarf or with a hat.
It was nearing 6pm, so we decided to head back. We weren’t far from our house. We passed by the Russian museum and then found the supermarket, which was just around the corner from where we are staying – and it was surprisingly large, but didn’t sell anything particularly useful. We got some biscuits, fruit, bread, etc and it was very, very cheap. We only spent £7 and ended up with quite a lot. Some odd things – grey tomatoes floating in liquid, lots of tins of fish, caviar in a fridge by the till, only meat flavours of crisps, lots of cottage cheese, no fresh bread.
We got back just after 6pm and did nothing for the rest of the evening. Tired from several days of walking around.
Monday 1 May 2017
May already. I remember writing the same at the beginning of April and wondering how it was April already. And now it’s May. Crazy.
We left at 9.30am for a walk around. Today it’s sunny. But still cold. We headed down past the Gostiny Dvor metro station – basically a huge old department store. It went on forever – yellow arches covering the pavement. Then along a few different canals for a bit, over some pretty bridges, past rows and rows of old blocks of buildings, and we reached a cathedral.
The designs for St Issac’s Cathedral began in 1818 and took until 1858 to construct. Over 100kg of gold leaf was used to cover the 22m high dome. Whilst the church is officially a museum, occasionally services are held here on certain religious holidays.it was pretty inside; the standard mosaics, gold and colour.
We walked back, past the Admiralty building – a long yellow building, with a bright gold spire, which is now a military college. We decided to head back to the Palace Square to have a look at the palace in the sunshine. But there were rows of army surrounding the square, so you couldn’t really get to it. So back to the Main Street.
And police and army lining the street, along with rope diving the pavement from the road. You couldn’t cross anywhere along the whole street. We headed in the direction of our house, and each road now had trucks blocking the roads. No cars could come onto the Main Street. In the distance, music and balloons. We were walking in the direction of the music and balloons and we soon caught up with them. Streams and streams of people, flags, balloons and banners. Different groups for different things. I guess they are May Day parades, but don’t know what each group were, or what they were waving banners about.
We picked up some take away lunch from a nearby vegetarian restaurant and went back to pick our bags up.
Our taxi was supposed to arrive at 12.45pm. But as lots of roads were closed, he was delayed. I was starting to worry. He turned up half an hour later, at 1.15pm. Exactly when the roads were reopening.
There was a lot of traffic heading out of the city, but as soon as we were out of the main centre, we were zooming along. Past blocks of grey. Grey apartment blocks. Grey parks. Grey shopping centres. And more grey offices.
The airport was about a 40 minute drive and we zoomed through scanning, passport checks, passport stamping, more bag scanning. And then we had a 30 minute delay.
Shopping wasn’t very exciting. Had our packed lunch – a falafel wrap, salad and a slice of chocolate tart. So good. And finally left, at 4.15pm (instead of 3.30pm). Bye Russia.
Where I stayed in Saint Petersburg: Kaleidoscope on Italyanskaya
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