Five Days in St. Petersburg
Updated: May 17, 2020
St. Petersburg (also called Sankt Peterburg) is the 2nd largest
city in Russia. It's a vast northern city, lay on the banks of the Baltic Sea, with ample parks, boulevards, and a ridiculously large number of Palaces and museums. Most of the city's attractions are grouped in one central area, making it very easy for tourists. The metro is cheap and effective. Uber rides are very competitive, allowing driving to distance sites without any hesitation. However, it seems like all the drivers are crazy: pushing, speeding quickly, very aggressive. It's better to take the metro whenever possible. Because of the sanctions of western countries on Russia, the ruble rate is low, which makes almost everything in Russia very cheap: Hotels, flights, restaurants, transportation – it's all cheap.
Many people don't speak English here. Google Translate saved me more than once - it's a must.
Liat was invited to be a keynote speaker at a fascinating conference at St. Petersburg University. We came to the city in the evening time. We took an Uber ride from the airport to our hotel, located in Vasileostrovsky District, one of the Islands in the heart of the city. We immediately searched for a place to eat. The hotel receptionist recommended an excellent Soviet-like Restaurant, which is designed like an apartment from the Soviet era: Sovestkoye Kafe Kvartirka. It was a great choice. We ordered some traditional Russian dishes, accompanied by vodka, and went to sleep happy and kind.
The next day, I walked Liat to the university and continued to Peter and Paul Fortress. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to understand that most of the museums on this island are close. All the museums in St. Petersburg have different days off. On Wednesdays, Peter and Paul Fortress got no open museums and churches. Anyway, I strolled on the little island for my pleasure and was impressed by the massive and decorative buildings and gates. The island is like an open museum, with explanatory panels everywhere.
I took a panoramic view from the top of the fortress's walls and used the same ticket to enter a very short but unique hidden tunnel that was just discovered and open for travelers a few years ago.
I remember that a few minutes before noon, I got an urgent phone call. While I was talking, I suddenly heard the noise of a loud explosion. It was horrifying. But I saw lots of people standing and looking at the wall. I realized that this was the traditional cannon shot – every day at noon. Too bad I didn't have the time to get ready for it.
At noon, I walked into the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps. I had already visited several military museums. When it comes to the middle ages, they are all the same: armors, shields, swords, lances, and cloths of knights and horses. This museum also features gums and cannons from the 17th-century onwards, an impressive Tanks display, and exhibitions of missiles and communication technology. There is also an exhibition on Kalashnikov – the developer of the famous gun that carries his name and a national hero of Russia. Unfortunately, the whole display is written in Russian, with no translation into English or other languages.
After this visit, I went back to the university to hear the lecture of Liat – which was terrific as usual. We closed the day with dinner at Neva Cafe on the bank of Neva River and went to sleep.
Liat joined me on the 3rd day for a few hours. We took the metro to Gostiny Dvor station, named after the first shopping center of St. Petersburg and one of the oldest in the world, founded in the 18th century.
After a short walk in the mall, we went to see Eliseevy Merchants' Shop - one-of-a-kind deli - with all kinds of chocolates, pastry, wines, and so on. Liat was very curious about a sugared pepper. Not my taste…
We started walking on Nevsky avenue towards the Palace Square. On our way, we saw the monument of Catherine the Great, the Kazan Cathedral, The Singer House – once the home of the sewing machines company, and now the largest bookstore of St. Petersburg. Besides its unique appearance, it's also a great place to visit the restrooms.
We spent half a day in several different buildings of the legendary Hermitage. The central part is consists of The Tzar's Winter Palace, the old Hermitage, and the new Hermitage. Besides being an art museum, it's a gorgeous palace with outstanding rooms and spectacular halls.
The 2nd part is just across the Palace Square, in the General Staff Building. From the inside, it's a modern museum with lots of exhibitions.
The 3rd place we visited was the Winter Palace of Peter I – a fascinating peep to the living rooms. The kitchen, the dressing room, and the study of the Tsar.
We walked back to our hotel through the Spit of Vasilievsky Ostrov - the green tip of the island in front of the Ols St. Petersburg Stock Exchange and just between the two Rostral Columns.
We closed the day in a great restaurant called Joy & Spices, not far from our hotel.
The next day Liat went to her conference, and I took the metro to Gorkovska station – names after the admirable Russian writer Maxim Gorky, who lived nearby. They place a big statue there for his honor.
The Museum of Political History is the most impressive. Unfortunately, I had only two hours for this visit, but I could have stayed at least an hour and a half more.
I met Liat at noon. We were both starving, so we entered the closest place we found: the Old Customs House Restaurant. It was an exclusive chef restaurant. Because of the low currency rate, we decided to check it out. They gave Liat a menu without prices… only the men get to see the prices in this kind of place. They gave us a complimentary Parmesan chocolate-coated ball. Marvelous. Then we got our order: Mushroom soup, ribs, and hot spinach. For dessert, we ordered a magnificent Crème Brulee. It was the most expansive meal we ate on this tour, but I must say that in Israel we would pay five times for such lunch.
We wanted to learn more about the ruthless siege of Leningrad (It was the name of the city during the Soviet's era) that took place during the Second World War. Seven hundred fifty thousand people died from hunger because of the Nazi siege. It was pouring, so we invited an Uber ride – but we found out the siege museum is closed due to a massive reconstruction. The Pushkin House was not far away, so we manage to arrive on time for self-tour in the apartment served the poet in his last months, before he got killed in a duel with his wife's ardent suitor.
From there, we went to see the Church of the Saviour of the Blood, built by Alexander the Second, after surviving an assassination attempt. It is a spectacular view – from outside and from the inside. I never saw anything like it before.
It was almost 18:00 when most of St. Petersburg museums are closing, so we decided to take an Uber ride 10 km south, to the vast monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad as it called – an impressive memorial for the terrible siege of the city. It was the rush hour, and the town was jammed. It took us 50 minutes to get there: a large square surrounded by a highway, with no visual access. We almost surrounded the entire square until we found an underground passageway. Except for the monument, there is also a museum under the square, but unfortunately, it was already closed.
We closed the day in a great restaurant near the square and headed back to our hotel.
I started the 5th day by visiting the house of the admirable writer Dostoyevsky. It was his last house before he died. Lovely home with six rooms. Using the audio-guide, I learned a lot about Dostoyevsky and his family, his work's habits, and I saw the study where he wrote the book "Karamazov Brothers." In front of the apartment, there is a small exhibition telling the story of his life. It's a lovely place, highly recommended for literary fans.
Afterward, I took an Uber ride, picked up Liat from the university, toward the palaces and gardens compound in Peterhof. It was a one hour drive. If we thought that everything we saw until now was exaggerated – we learned here that it was only the appetizer. There is no such thing as "too much" when it comes to the Tsars. Spectacular gardens with sculptured fountains everywhere, and more palaces, and beautiful church – everything is big, amazing, spectacular. Because of the rain, we couldn't sit and rest anywhere, so we only walked there for three hours…
Our next stop was a shopping mall, half the way to our hotel—just a typical mall, with all the familiar brands and prices. After five days of museums and palaces, it doesn't hurt to walk around a place that looks familiar.
The next day we left the hotel. We had a noon flight, so I took Liat to Peter and Paul Fortress. The Cathedral was open – the burial place of the Romanov dynasty. And we also had the chance to see the Canon fire. A lovely way to end our remarkable trip to the great city of St. Petersburg.