Journey to the Past, or: 2 Days in St. Petersburg
Originally, I didn’t plan on doing a post about St. Petersburg. I worried it wouldn’t feel genuine since I spent every second there on a guided tour. But that’s a little silly. Guided tours are a perfectly legitimate way to travel, and can be particularly great in a city rich with history and crowded must-see attractions. What really changed my mind on the matter, however, was people’s reactions to hearing I was there. “Oof, you were in Russia?! How was that??” So I figured I’d set the record straight.
I’ll admit that I was filled with trepidation over visiting Russia. I mean, their government meddled in our election, they commit human rights violations on the reg…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But I’d had this trip planned for ages, and despite current events, I was excited to see somewhere so vastly different from what I know.
Ultimately, we ended up having a perfectly lovely time. Of course, this wasn’t an unadulterated view into Russian culture, or even the city of St. Petersburg. We only saw what the tour guide (and probably the Russian government) wanted us to see. It did feel a little sterile in that way. And that’s kind of the case on any guided tour, but it felt particularly true here. That said, getting to see the extravagance of St. Petersburg’s old palaces and churches, and hearing about its history was very cool. Our tour guide quickly caught onto the fact that we wanted all the dirt on Anastasia and Rasputin after Ben and I half-jokingly asked a couple of questions about where they lived (and died), and sort of turned it into the Anastasia tour of St. Petersburg, adding impromptu stops, such as Rasputin’s murder site. So that was obviously great.
In the end, our guide made a little speech about how she hoped that we could see that though politicians may try to divide us, we’re all just people. That really stuck with me, because in truth, everyone I had any personal contact with in Russia was incredibly nice. I’m sure there are plenty of evil people who live there (like anywhere), but I also think it’s important to remember that there are plenty of regular folks who don’t identify with their government or their country’s global image.
If you’re planning on visiting Russia, there are some things you should know.
- You need a visa. Even if you’re getting off a cruise ship, like I was. There’s a loophole, though. Certain guided tours will provide a short term tourist visa. Of course, that means you can’t go anywhere without your tour guide. So if you’re there overnight, you can’t just go wandering around on your own.
- Take cybersecurity into account. As you’re probably aware, hacking is rampant in Russia. The main thing to think about here is wifi. Stay off of public or unsecured wifi networks and you’ll probably be fine. If you’d like additional information, I found this article to be helpful.
- Pickpocketing is no joke, so stay alert. Our guide had us leave everything on the bus for about 80% of our stops. Pickpockets are especially aggressive near popular tourist attractions, so be careful at places like this.
- Don’t take a backpack. A lot of museums and churches don’t allow backpacks, so it’s probably better to take a small bag if you absolutely need to bring a few things.
- Lines are no joke. Like, it can take several hours to get into some of these places without an appointment. Fortunately, if you go with a guide they’ll likely book in advance. If you don’t, make sure to look into doing so if you don’t want to waste half your day in line.
Now without further ado, here’s some pictures. Each place is filled with history. I’m not about to give you a lesson. Instead, I’ll label and provide a little information on each location.
The State Hermitage Museum:
We sadly didn’t get the opportunity to explore the inside of this place, but it contains over three million pieces of art and is said to be incredible.
The Church of Spilled Blood:
I really liked this church. In addition to being beautiful, it has the coolest name of any place I’ve ever been.
This was one of my favorite places in St. Petersburg. I’ve always been fascinated by Fabregé eggs, and this museum has the world’s largest collection of them!
St. Isaac’s Cathedral:
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this cathedral, but it’s real pretty.
Trinity Cathedral and St. Petersburg Metro:
Same for these two spots.
Besides the palace itself being grand as hell, Peterhof has an insane collection of gravity-powered fountains, and some beautiful and immense gardens. It was unquestionably one of my favorite places in St. Petersburg.
Yes, another over-the-top palace. What sets this one apart, though, is the Amber Room. Unfortunately you can’t take pictures in this room, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.
And that’s it for St. Petersburg! I’ll leave you with this beautiful picture of my little brother adorned with several birds outside the Church of Spilled Blood.