For the Victory Day weekend the school arranged a staff trip to Saint Petersburg. The idea with this trip was to do the off the beaten track sorts of sites. We left after school on Friday catching the Sapson or fast train. We arrived into Saint Petersburg around 9:30 in the evening and arrived at our hotel.
The next day we met up for breakfast then planned how we were going to watch the victory day. We decided to try to go to the river because we had been told that there would be a parade of Navy vessels. So we made our way to that area. Unfortunately the location had been changed, but we were able to watch the fly over. We even stumbled upon a group of Military Doctors who had marched in the Victory day parade and were taking pictures in front of the Bronze Horseman statue.
We then went on a mission to find Russian donuts and generally just wander around the city. We ended up walking over towards Christ the Savior of Spilled Blood which is a church dedicated to Alexander II as it is the location where he was assassinated. The church was not a church for long but it holds great significance for St. Petersburg for other reasons one of which is that it is nearly constantly under construction because each time the construction stops something massive happens in Russia. The first time was 1917 the second was 1991! So the understanding of our tour guide is that it will forever be under construction because they Russian’s are worried that if they stop something might happen again!
We then decided to do a boat tour which is a great way to get to know the layout of St. Petersburg a bit more. The city is at the mouth of the Neva River and is in a delta zone. There are 2 big islands that make up the city and many canals. In this sense it is a bit like Venice in that there is a large boating culture around the city. The boat tour took us around all of the major sites and was a great way to get oriented. It was also very easy to see how they canals were channeled and planned in order to make the city the way that it currently is. Being at the mouth of a river and having two islands as a part of the city means that waterways would have played a major role in the design of the city.
After the boat tour we caught a cab back to the hotel for a bit of a rest as my ankle was swollen again and needed a bit of a break. I managed a quick nap before grabbing a cab and heading towards the Mariinsky Theater for the first of 2 ballet evenings. This evening was filled with two, one act ballets. One of which is only shown on Victory Day and the Anniversary of the end of the St. Petersburg siege. The theater itself is very compact, which means that there isn’t a bad seat in the house, it very much reminds me of the West End Theaters in London.
When we left the theater we headed towards the river to be able to see the Fireworks that would be set off for Victory Day. Since we were along the river we decided just to keep walking towards our hotel because we figured that getting back by Metro was going to be a headache. Judging by the crowds we were probably right, so we had a beautiful walk past the two lighthouses to our hotel. We even managed to find cotton candy/candy floss along the way! Yes, I had cotton candy at 10pm and I was fine!
Friday was the day for the “off the beaten tracks tour” we started by going to the top of one of the highest buildings in Moscow and were given a rooftop tour of St. Petersburg. We were given a bit of history of the major sites that can be seen from the roofs. It was interesting to hear the history of some of the buildings and area as I did not know most of it.
Then we had lunch along Rubinstein Street which is known for its restaurants. I had lunch at Bekitzer, which is a Jewish restaurant and had the best falafel I have ever had!
We then headed around to see the buildings and courtyards around this area. We were given a bit of history about why the buildings were built that way that they were and why the neighborhoods were as they were. There are still something like 100,000 communal apartments in St. Petersburg. Part of this is because the space in these apartments tends to be large and secondly because the amount you could get for selling your room/space isn’t enough to purchase your own apartment.
Some of the buildings are amazing older structures and I would have loved to have been able to go inside one of the apartments to see what they were like. I imagine that there are similar buildings in Moscow as well.
After the tour I headed back to the Hotel to turn in my paper due for my Masters and to rest my ankle again. I then went out for dinner at Red and had an awesome steak!
Our last day was on Saturday, I was going to get up and go for a walk to the Theater for Ballet #2/3 but I decided not to push my ankle so I hung out at the hotel and just chilled.
Ballet # 2 or 3 depending on how you look at it was Firebird. It was an interesting ballet because it is only 1 act really, but it has a fabulous music and super cool characters.
All in all it was a great trip to St. Petersburg. I know that I need to go back for the “typical” stuff, like the Hermitage and the Winter Palace which I will do before I leave Russia but it was a great way to see the city all in all!