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White Nights in Saint Petersburg

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Days 6-10

The Window to the West, the Venice of the North – formally Petergrad, then Leningrad, whatever it is called, within minutes, I fall  for Saint Petersburg. 

Saint Pete’s not St. Pete’s

We shed our luggage, hit the streets with friends Olga and Igor after a night’s rest on a train from  Moscow.

Weaving through the Admiraltesky District to Saint Isaac’s Square graced by the ornate (and giant) statue of Nicholas I, the Neoclassical Mariinsky Palace, and the gold domed Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.

We climb the spiral stairs up to the gold dome, but due to my great aversion to heights, I misfire on 10-15 pictures, huddled behind the comforts of a fence-less veranda.

Through Alexander’s Garden, through the gate of the city, along the river on the backside of the Hermitage museum (Winter’s Palace), over to the Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood.

I know, I know, it’s a repeat. So what, it’s gorgeous

A little history: the CSSBlood was built to commemorate (not celebrate) the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1883. If you follow the right railing in the picture above, you’ll see a little gold roof to the left of two arches on the building. This is the exact spot where Tsar Alexander was literally hit/exploded by a bomb thrown from a Cy-Young award-winning revolutionary.

Across from the CSSB, where all the China-made trinkets are hocked; an artist sells me on an original piece after I haggle him down – the only aside – I have to “make him famous”. So, here he is:

Alright, who threw the Mr. Bubbleski in the fountain?

A repeat from the Moscow post, but I want a Lada that runs on Borscht.

Candid shot of a gentleman on the cruise. He had crazy (awesome) prison tattoos covering his entire right hand.

After a delicious meal at Baku, an Azerbaijani restaurant, we take a libation-filled midnight canal cruise, celebrating the White Nights, watching the sun resist the horizon.

Peterhof and More

Too bright, too early – we head outside the city to Peterhof; Peter the Great’s massive Summer Palace overlooking the Gulf of Finland. If this were MTV Cribs, it would take a week to shoot just the freaking gardens…

The front gardens leading to a modest shack

My childhood sprinklers looked like this..

Back into the city, spending the rest of the day walking around. Interesting fellow, that Peter the Great – we tour Kunstkamera, a museum of oddities procured by Mr. The Great himself, filled with Siamese twin skeletons, and various birth-defects/abnormalities entombed forever in formaldehyde.

It’s a fascinating, macabre collection, and certainly not too gruesome for my fearless readers, but, I have omitted pictures in case someone is eating whilst reading. You’re welcome.

Like Amsterdam, or any European town, Saint Petersburg is a walking town; a place to discover little pockets of history -

Olga points to an apartment complex, and tells us this was the location of Raskolnikov’s apartment in Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’.

Igor takes us around the corner through a rough-looking park and points at the back of Moika Palace where Rasputin was purportedly poisoned, shot, beaten after surviving the first two, then wrapped in a rug, and thrown into the Neva river. Cause of death: Drowning. Bad Ace.

Russian Mugging

Peter the Great’s Tomb within the Peter and Paul fortress. I would not want to fight his zombie

A beer store, then a lively dinner at a Georgian Restaurant, where we drink a vivid green concoction called Tarhun, which is most likely spiked with Georgian moonshine, ’cause I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, or what was eaten. It may have been the supplemental wine, or the vodka…

Green juice and vodka. (photo by Igor)

After a slight space-out, I regain my wits, and we are promptly denied access to Barokobama bar by a Jersey-Shore looking bouncer. Bastard.

No birth certificate, no entry

We spend our last night sitting by the river among cheering revelers, watching the raising of the bridges connecting the islands. If you get stuck on the wrong side –  hope you’re a good swimmer; because it’s the only way to get across while the bridges are up unless you have a catapult handy. Fortunately, we’re on the right side.

Biker in front of the city Gate.

Saint Petersburg is an architectural spectacle, built upon swampland through Peter the Great’s vision, and his deep affinity for Italian, French, Spanish architects. The city is gorgeous; the canals exude a romantic calm; the people are great; it’s Euro; it’s Russian; it’s Eurussian…Russeuro, I want to go back.

Final Thoughts on Russia

I return from Russia satiated, yet wanting more.

People ask why I would ever go to Russia, and I explain that I went for my best friend’s wedding. But it was more than that; this was a ‘holy shit’ kind of trip. The full package: adventure, food, history; my preconceived perceptions of Russia were taken on a cultural joyride, mugged, then left in an abandoned Cold War parking lot, and never called again by Experience. – Mike

******

A special thank you to Paul, and especially Nastya/her family/friends for such a memorable trip. Olga, Igor/ your family – thank you for your hospitality – we’ll see you soon, hopefully before 2018 World Cup…

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love Russia. I hope to get to go back at some point. And a Lada that runs on borscht? It’s really the only economically feasible choice for the 21st century.

    July 13, 2012
    • When did you go?
      I know! Could you imagine? the flex fuel borscht lada….

      July 14, 2012
      • I went in 1996, to Moscow and Smolensk. I haven’t been to Petersburg yet, and it’s on my bucket list. God, I do love me some borscht.

        July 14, 2012
        • NIce! Were you just traveling for leisure?
          Anytime I smell dill at the grocery store, I crave borscht/russia.

          July 15, 2012
  2. St. Petersburg is magical during the White Nights. The entire city is abuzz with energy. If you didn’t make it inside the Hermitage this time, make it your mission on the next trip!

    July 13, 2012
    • Absolutely agree. It WAS magical.

      Not sure why, but we skipped touring inside the Hermitage. But, I have no doubt we’ll go back. Thanks!

      July 14, 2012
  3. Wow and I thought White Nights was just a really good movie with Billy Crystal, wasn’t that Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, oh never mind. :)

    This makes me want to go to Russia, spellbinding, gorgeous photos. thank you for sharing!

    July 13, 2012
    • You have no idea how close i was to doing a white nights reference – thought it might be too obscure – you win.

      You should go! Thanks, Maggie!

      July 14, 2012
  4. Gorgeous pictures!

    July 13, 2012
  5. free penny press #

    Wonderful post and the pictures are amazing.. Can I ask how did you end up in Russia? You travel quite a bit ?

    July 13, 2012
    • My best friend’s wedding. His lovely wife is Russian native.
      Yes, though I’m not a full-time travel writer, I am very lucky to have been around a bit.

      July 14, 2012
  6. ursulamanso #

    Please take a look at my blog http://travelingtobrazil.wordpress.com Perhaps you can find interesting coming to Brazil next time :-)

    August 18, 2012
    • Very nice! Always wanted to go, until I do, looking forward to reading more about Brazil.

      August 18, 2012
  7. twl #

    Great photos! I worked on a cruise ship and spent a summer stopping there for an over night every cruise. It was such a shock to me, when I got there, how different it was from preconceived ideas. I thought it was amusing what they would do to be more like the US. We use to go to a bar called Hollywood Nights that was like attending the Russian version of of the Academy Awards. They had the velvet rope and a long staircase with a red carpet. There was paparazzi taking pictures (I found out later there was no film in the cameras) that were just there for affect. Once inside, the place was decorated with whatever they could get there hands on (mostly army surplus) and the stage for live Russian pop acts was flanked with two 40 foot high cutouts. One of James Dean and one of Marilyn Monroe. It seemed to be a city of contridictions but it was very cool. Sorry you didn’t see the Hermitage Museum. You could spend a week just wandering that building alone.

    September 7, 2012
    • Thanks! Please tell me you’ve written about these adventures. I was hooked just reading your comment….
      Can’t say I regretted not going to the Hermitage – cause there’s no doubt I’ll be visiting Saint Petersburg again. Next time I can spend that week in the museum.

      September 7, 2012
      • twl #

        I haven’t written about my ship days but maybe I will start another blog cause it was crazy. Its been 10 years since I came back to land but there is something that takes me back there almost everyday. Congrats on making fresh pressed. I look forward to reading through your posts to see what you’ve seen and experienced. Cheers.

        September 7, 2012
      • twl #

        oops. I hit send before I mentioned the gay bar at 3 am, the cab driver firing a gun in the air as we ran away through a check point without paying, having room temperature weiner soup with potato chips and vodka at the best hotel in St Petersburg served as the breakfast special etc etc etc lol

        September 7, 2012
  8. WOW, Mike! Amazing tales! Russia is so on my Bucket!

    December 3, 2012
    • Thank you, Z. After your fantastic trip to South America ends – you should just head right over to Russia. :)

      December 3, 2012
  9. What a trip! I can’t wait for my turn! Awesome tips, too!

    August 8, 2013
  10. WordsFallFromMyEyes #

    FANTASTIC :)

    Talk about living – just wonderful.

    August 26, 2013

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