Camera Used : Sigma DP0, DP2 & DP3
St Petersburg has always been one of those places I've always wanted to go. Having seen it on a few television programs, the Architecture, History, Waterways and Green spaces all looked amazing. As my Wife and I have Birthdays very close together (end of January) we usually go somewhere to celebrate, more often or not a cold place such as Norway. This year we went to Russia and St Petersburg, staying at the W hotel which I highly recommend.
Unfortunately in January it's very cold, a few weeks before it had got as cold as -20°C, when we were there, the coldest it got was -6°C. There was a little bit of snow on the ground (so no Green spaces) and the Canals were frozen over. By the way, St Petersburg is known as 'The Venice of the North' but during winter months there are no boats just ice (so no Waterways to cruise along).
At this point I just want to warn you that to visit Russia you need a Visa which you must purchase from the Russian Visa Office in London (if you live in the UK). You fill it out On-line and print the document then hand it in at the Visa Office. Process time is around 4-6 weeks.
Right let's start at the beginning, I love staying at the Airport the night before a flight, I see it as an extra days holiday, even if the flights not till the afternoon! The flight to Russia was with BA from Terminal 5 Heathrow, now I like to stay at the Terminal Hotel so at Terminal 5 it's the Sofitel. A very nice large modern hotel which is connected to the terminal by the car park and walkway. It's quite expensive but worth the money, though recommend getting dinner in the terminal as it's a lot cheaper. I don't usually comment on parking but have to mention 'Pod Parking' at Terminal 5. If you've never done it.....just do it! Enough said.
Our hotel in St Petersburg was called W St Petersburg, getting to the hotel was easy as a car met us (costs extra), it took about half an hour from Airport to Hotel. The W is a funky hotel, very modern inside, the room was large and had a great monsoon shower, all the staff spoke English and were very polite.
Funky Light in Hotel Room
Now let's talk about St Petersburg and show you some photos. St Petersburg is all about History, not recent history (the Russians don't want to talk about that) but back in the days when they had a Royal Family. The tourist part of the City is full of Cathedrals, Palaces, Museums and Historic Buildings, these are the ones I visited:
Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace
This is located in Palace Square and is the main museum of St Petersburgh. During the Summer months it can get very popular with long queues to get in. The museum is very large both physically and with what it displays, you could easily spend two days here. There as rooms decorated in classical styles, Painting exhibitions, Sculptures even a Egyptian Exhibition. I could go on but recommend visiting the museum website to plan your trip - HERE
There are two main churches I recommend seeing, St Isaac's and the 'Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood' both with amazing interiors and the latter with an amazing exterior too.
Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood
Photographic Note: These were taken handheld as no tripods were allowed.
Another museum I would recommend visiting is the Faberge Museum
If you just want to relax I recommend the following :-
1. Old Russian Arcade Museum
2. Wander around the City
3. Shopping - all the modern shops but more expensive than UK
4. Boat trip - in the Summer
5. Sit in a Cafe and let the world pass-by
I have to be honest and say when abroad I'm not very adventurous, so I did not have any Cabbage Soup or Beef Stroganoff. I did however have some excellent steak and can recommend 'Stroganoff Steak House' as great restaurant to eat at. If you want something different, try 'Troika' a Cabaret Restaurant where you have dinner and a show, the show starts at 20:30.
Generally in Russia most people do not speak English so ordering food can be tricky, you will be OK in the larger restaurants but smaller restaurants and cafes you may have to point or use Google Translate. Another good way to get food is to go to Mcdonalds or Burger King and use the touch display (which can be set to English) to get your burger.
Last Day - Peterhof Grand Palace
This Palace is just outside St Petersburg and you will need to book a trip to go here. I booked through Tripadvisor for a 5 hour guided tour with Hotel pick up and lucky for us Airport drop off (after some negotiation).
This is a place you really need to see in the summer, the fountains are supposed to be spectacular but they were closed for the winter when I was there. The palace itself is about half finished and is actually mostly 'restored' and not 'original' as the palace was burnt down by the Nazis. The upstairs rooms look amazing, but knowing they do not contain the original artefacts or decor; it does lose some of it's magic.
Speaking with the guide, she recommended May and September as the best months to come. During high season the cruise ship day tourists take over the city, clogging up the Churches and Museums. I do not recommend coming in the winter, no green and no water, walking around the city in the biting cold is not that enjoyable.