I say this only because I loved St. Petersburg so much and I have maybe way too much to say/show. (tl;dr St. Petersburg was amazing.)
This was our only Baltic capital that wasn’t a European one, so we had to get blanket visas through a tour company called TJ Travel. (This company also did our Berlin tour for us!) It was nice having a tour guide again as opposed to our usual independent venturing, primarily through hop-on/hop-off (“ho/ho”) buses. Ours was a nice young man named Michael. (I say that like I’m an old lady; I think Michael was at least 2 years older than me.)
My mom told me long ago that she has some traces of Russian ancestry. (This was her explanation for why I don’t have typical Chinese facial features and why people think I’m half-European.) (???) I like the thought of having some Russian ancestry, so this was really an opportunity for me to visit my motherland!
I’m not sure I can accurately articulate how excited I was to visit St. Petersburg. I played “Rumor in St. Petersburg” in my cabin all morning as I got ready to go, if that’s any indication. The song played for maybe 30 minutes straight.
(I add this Read More because you shouldn’t be subjected to the photos if you don’t want to be.) (It’s a lot.)
On our first day, we started off by looking over the Neva River. It was a gorgeous beautiful day, one of very few that St. Petersburg sees, so we were really lucky. The view was spectacular and I started learning that superstition is deeply engrained in Russian history. For example, take this sphinx:
They are the only statues/figures/monuments that are unmarred by pigeon poop. Really! Michael told us that the sphinxes are regarded as having some kind of mystical power since the pigeons are too scared to poop on them, even though the pigeons do sit on them occasionally.
That’s the kind of respect I want to demand some day. XD
We then took a hydrofoil to the Peterhof Grand Palace, aka the Rusian Versailles. Peter the Great was really into Europe; he modeled his imperial life after those of the Europeans. He hit his mark, let me tell you. The Peterhof Palace was… so grand and so opulent, it was a lot to take in. Gilded everything, fountains everywhere. Peter the Great loved fountains and had as many installed as possible.
He was a bit of a troll, though. Back in those days, lords and ladies of the court would have to wear these giant powdered wigs, lots of makeup, lots of perfume, very heavy clothing, and the like just to attend his court and his parties. There is a walkway that would previously just randomly spray water all over whoever was walking through so that they would get horrendously weighed down by all that they were wearing and their hair & face would be essentially ruined. Peter the Great would just TROLOLOL to himself. There was also a magical children’s fountain where supposedly, stepping on the right stone would activate the fountain. Michael broke the illusion for us, but it’s nice to think that they put the effort in maintaining it for the kids.
Truly magnificent palace. It was incredible and I loved every minute. It was the perfect way to enjoy one of St. Petersburg’s few beautiful days.
More photos from our visit to the Peterhof Palace:
We went from the Peterhof to Pushkin, a town in St. Petersburg where you can find the Catherine Palace, a summer palace for the czars.
The Catherine Palace is named for Catherine I (very important Russian monarch, for those of you taking history notes) but her daughter Elizabeth didn’t like how out-of-fashion-Baroque her mother had designed the palace. Thus, the Catherine Palace as we see it is in Rococo style, and Rococo is everywhere.
If her father was known for being a huge troll, Elizabeth was known for being an amazing dancer. (My kind of gal!) She frequently threw balls and would dance at each and every one. She was first on the dance floor and last to leave. Supposedly, she could dance for 8 hours straight! So of course, her ballroom was fabulous, since she was spending so much time in it. One of the most famous rooms of Catherine Palace was the Grand Hall, which had gilded everything.
The entire room had a warm golden glow to it and I just was in such awe looking about at how much everything gleamed. Seriously, there’s a good reason we don’t have these kinds of lavish displays of wealth in the States but it makes for such an amazing experience to visit.
I also loved imagining nobility, scared for their wigs and makeup and outfits because I believe Elizabeth also inherited some of her dad’s penchant for practical jokes. All they really had to worry about was how much their feet would hurt after dancing in heels – both men and women – for 6 hours, unable to refuse the empress a dance or 15.
Another famous room is the Amber Room, which is literally a room made of amber, aka Russian gold. However, we weren’t allowed to photograph it so here is a photo I found online:
Don’t be disappointed, I have plenty of photos from inside the Catherine Palace to share with you all!
Of course, the Catherine Palace also had a beautiful garden, although it wasn’t as ridonkulously magnificent as the Peterhof Palace one. (This was just there for the summer after all…)
In the evening, since there weren’t enough people signed up to do a canal tour of the city, we did an evening on the town. Because we were so far north in the summer, it didn’t even begin to get dark until about 9PM local time, thus marking the beginning of my losing track of what time it was at any point in the day. (Northern cities + summertime = almost 20 hours of daylight in some parts!)
We visited lots of shops and a very fancy upscale grocery. I called it bougie, but upon reflecting on the fact that I was in Russia, figured that a shortened version of “bourgeoisie” was not appropriate XD It was nice to be out and about in the town, but it was not lost on me that we were getting a view of a very affluent minority of St. Petersburg living.
The evening on the town ended with a (surprise to me) vodka tasting.
Now, lemme just preface that I had only started drinking when I turned 21 a few months prior to this trip. And by “start drinking”, I mean that I had a mudslide (chocolate milkshake with a splash of Kahlua) and could not finish a single drink the 8 times I was offered.
The vodka tasting intimidated me. I had literally never had hard liquor before, but I felt this weird Russian peer pressure. I also didn’t know if I could handle alcohol period! My mom gets Asian glow really easily and I’m prone to blushing at the drop of a hat (especially if I’m the one who dropped the hat), so I was worried.
Maybe I won’t have to drink, I thought to myself. We were to have 3 rounds of vodka and the first shots were poured. The owner of the restaurant where we were doing the tasting was giving us a brief history of vodka (while our evening tour guide had a little birthday dinner!) and told us how to drink our vodka, in addition to explaining our little snacks. We were told to waft the smell first, so I picked up my little glass and felt nothing more than burning. Oh dear. I was about to put it down when the owner said that it was bad luck to put your glass down if it wasn’t empty.
Remember how I said that superstition was a big part of Russian culture?
I cried a little on the inside (XD), held my breath (as per the instructions), and knocked back the shot as fast as I could.
Hahahahahahaha it burned. I ended up drinking all 3 shots (over the course of at least 2 hours, don’t you worry). I think I also drank at least A GALLON of water. (I’m a very big proponent of water-drinking, especially if there’s alcohol involved.) I definitely had our water pitcher refilled no less than 5 times. I was being egged on by the senior citizens who were on our evening tour with us and my dad wound up bragging to everyone we met for the rest of our trip that his daughter drank 3 shots of vodka without issue. (I don’t think he realized how this made me seem like a bit of a big drinker……….) The only effects I remember feeling were that I had to focus a little more on walking a straight line, and well, we were living on a cruise ship, so everything was a bit wobbly to start with!
I fell asleep so excited about our first day in St. Petersburg and completely ready to go back the next day!