One of the most exciting and fascinating cities I have ever been to. Never felt safe though. It's a bit like the wild west over there.


St Petersburg is an amazing and exciting city. It was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, (hence the name). After regaining control of this land from the Swedes, Peter built a grand city that was to be the "most European" of any Russian city. It was the capitol of Russia for more than 200 years and it's historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While we were only there for the weekend, I have enough photos to choke a moose.

History & Architecture

I would highly recommend a trip to St. Petersburg to anyone who asks but there are some tips to remember that will make traveling there a wee bit less harrowing.

Plan ahead - Know where you will arrive and how to get to your lodging from there. Arrange your transportation ahead of time. Taxi drivers are often, but not always honest and the ones at the train station are apparently not to be trusted. You can book a taxi in advance. Knowing our hotel was close to the station, we attempted to hoof it and got hopelessly lost. Thank God for the honest taxi driver that happened into us. We were actually only about 5 minutes away, but walking the wrong direction.

Transportation - Know how you will get to the sights you want to see from your lodging. It's a big city folks. There is plenty of cheap public transportation but the average bus driver knows little if any English. While the charades we played with people in the subway system were entertaining, it really didn't help us much.

Bring a map of the city written in the Cyrillic alphabet. We all had maps in Russian, but they were useless because the street signs are written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Not similar at all.

Language - Russia was isolated for the better part of the 20th century. Realize that virtually NO ONE speaks English and deal with it. Many of those that do, speak only "tourism" English. If you have the opportunity to go with someone who is familiar with the language, take it.

You are a big, fat, slow-moving target. Plan accordingly. It's still the wild west over there. Be smart.

Around Town

The following are sites in St. Petersburg that are simply not to be missed:

Church on the Spilled Blood

The Church on the Spilled Blood was built from 1883 to 1907 to mark the spot of the assassination of tzar Alexander II. Ironically, Alexander was a reformist who was sympathetic to the typical Russian peasant and subsequent rulers cracked down hard upon dissenters. It's official name is the Church of the Resurrection, though it also goes by Cathedral of the Ascension, Church of Our Savior on the Blood and other monikers as well.

Architect Alfred Parland won the design competition that stipulated only the the church be designed in a purely Russian 17th century design. Very similar to St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, the interior is decorated even more lavishly than the exterior with several thousand square yards of Russian marble and at least 20 different local minerals. The cathedral was spared demolition after the communist revolution only because the large rooms and tall ceilings provided much need warehouse space. Fully restored it is impossible to do it justice with a camera.

St. Peter & Paul Cathedral & Fortress

After defeating the Swedes in 1703, the first order of business was to build a fort. The St Peter & Paul Fortress was the first structure built in St Petersburg. The unique cathedral, designed by Domenico Trezzini, was completed in 1733. All the Russian tzars from Peter I to Alexander III are buried beneath the cathedral. Even Tzar Nicholas II and family were re-interred in the cathedral 80 years after their deaths. Gaudy is the only appropriate term for the interior of this grand structure, but that is what we would expect in a church for a 17th century tzar.

The Hermitage

With over 3 million exhibits, The Hermitage is the worlds 2nd largest museum, (I believe the Smithsonian is the largest). The Winter Palace is the primary building but just one of six structures that make up the museum. They also have branches in Las Vegas and Amsterdam. According to Wikipedia, it holds the Guiness world record for the largest collection of paintings even after the soviets sold about 2000 paintings deemed "bourgeois"

The museum was founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine and is also one of the oldest museums. The original works were given to the state to settle unpaid debts. Of course in the early days, few people except the emperor and empress ever saw the ever increasing collection of art. In 1852 a new public museum was built to house the collection and is widely thought to be the world's first structure built for that express purpose. After the Soviet revolution, the museum became property of the state and many formerly private collections were added to the museum, including works taken from western Europe by the nazis and later obtained by the Soviets.

A helpful hint: The museum is so vast, one can never expect to see everything. Pick the artists and types of work you are most interested in and see those fist. Then allow yourself to wander aimlessly through the halls and soak it all in.


All photos on this page are originals by & copyrighted by Daren Willden, unless otherwise stated.
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