Tallinn to St Petersburg Bus Tour. Part 1Sunday, June 12, 2016 Sightseeing and Landmarks by admin
Since I was a kid, Russia (or Soviet Union, at that time) always called my attention by its exotic look – exotic even by European standard.
Decades later I managed to make my dream of visiting the “Mother Russia” come true and there is no better choice to have a great impression of it rather than a trip to Saint Petersburg.
Moscow may be the capital and the richest city of Russia but if you are looking for beauty and glamour – St.Petersburg is the place to be.
Capital of the Russian Empire until 1917 and home of the Romanov dynasty, Saint Petersburg (often referred to by the locals simply as SPB) conserves the best that Russia has to offer in terms of palaces, churches and gardens to visit.
3 Reasons to avoid driving from Tallinn to St Petersburg
From my hometown Tallinn (Estonia) it would take around 6 hours by car to get to SPB but if you are coming from a neighboring country I highly recommend you to avoid driving a car there for 3 basic reasons:
- The traffic is intense most of the day and being stuck in a traffic jam can spoil your whole experience.
- Some malicious people can throw their cars (or themselves!) towards your vehicle and – blaming you for such an accident –request monetary compensation. You are there to have fun and avoid trouble, right? If you want to know more about it, check out this video:
- The subway system of Metro St.Petersburg covers most part of the city. Not only it is the fastest means of moving around but also it will provide an additional unforgettable experience of visiting one of the most unique underground transportation systems in the whole world. The fact that I will explain in more detail later in this post.
Enough reasons, right?
Because of this I opted for an excursion… and it was great! First, because I managed to visit some places far from the city, like Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo, and second for the freedom that me and my wife could skip some parts of the program and do some things on our own that led us to unique experiences that will also be explained further in this post.
DAY 1: Approaching the city: Peterhof and First Impressions of St. Petersburg
Coming from the West, the best welcome greeting you can receive is the complex of gardens, palaces and fountains of Peterhof (also referred to as Petergof).
Built under the orders of Peter the Great, Peterhof (that means “Peter’s Court” in Dutch) is sometimes referred to as the “Russian Versailles” and it’s recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Peterhof Palace is the main building.
It is huge!
So, if you are short of time you can skip exploring the interior.
Go for the Peterhof fountains.
Due to its size you will spend a few hours there for sure – and you will love it!
There are so many different fountains, gardens and palaces that you will get the idea of what it was like being part of the Russian nobility.
To enhance this experience further, you will find there two more add-ons:
- In the Peterhof gardens artists walk around dressed as nobles that offer to take photos with you in exchange for a few Roubles.
- If taking photos with them is not enough, you can also get yourself in the royal mood by renting clothes over there!
In fact this is really cool, because you can walk around the gardens dressed just like a true member of the House of Romanov (the Russian royal family) that will attract a lot of attention and there will be lots of people wanting to take photos of you and with you!
What not to miss in Peterhof
Like I said, the place is big and the choices are vast. If your time is limited, I would recommend you not to miss these 3 places:
- The Grand Cascade. Basically, the most important part of the Peterhof Palace fountains. The view from below is breathtaking but seeing from above is even more fun because its checkered floor gives you the feeling that you are in the castle of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. This is the main fountain – and that’s why it is the busiest one – and nothing but a little patience help you to get a good position for memorable photos.
- A small Hermitage. Next day you will see the REAL Hermitage, so why not meet its younger brother? Cute.
- The Dragon fountain (or Chessboard Hill Cascade) with water dropping through long checkered steps. It has an amazing visual effect! In my opinion this is the most unexpected view of the Cascade Fountains in Peterhof!
About adaptation for wheelchair users I can say that the park is pretty adapted, hence the access to the lower level of the fountains is made by long ramps on the side of the palace.
Leaving behind the luxurious surroundings wandering through Peterhof gardens, it’s time to approach St.Petersburg!
The first thing that strikes you is the uniqueness of the suburbs of Saint Petersburg – and Russia as a whole.
For sure you are taken aback by the size of the enormous residential buildings.
We see big housing projects everywhere in the world but they are quite small in comparison to the magnitude of the Soviet era buildings.
It is even more impressive if you think that behind every group of 3 or 4 of windows there must live a whole family!
Interminable blocks of buildings.
You see where they begin but there is no end to them.
After having officially arrived in St. Petersburg with your first steps in a regular street you cannot miss spotting something unique if you look in front of you:
It must be a local custom but for me it was quite unusual to see advertisements of any sort – of any kind of business – printed on the ground.
It seems like a kind of cheaper billboards that most business owners can afford to pay for so at least in every pedestrian path there are some ads on the asphalt that for sure will catch your attention.
The bridges of Saint Petersburg and why they are so unique
For the first night besides a pub or a night club near your hotel, another cool thing to look for is the nearest bridge.
Because at night some bridges are raised to give passage to big ships. St. Petersburg is a city cut by the Neva River and many canals.
Due to that there are 342 bridges, making SPB deserve the nicknames of “City of Bridges” and “Venice of the North”.
The view of most of the bridges at night is astonishing but even more spectacular are the Palace bridge and the Trinity bridge, that opens for the ships.
Ah, always be sure that you are staying at the right side of the bridge (i.e. the one closer to your hotel) when they raise it.
Otherwise there will probably be no way for you to cross to the other side before the next morning!
DAY 2: Smolny Cathedral, The Hermitage and a little extra bonus…
Cathedral of Smolny
A nice way to start the second day well is to visit the beautiful white Cathedral of Smolny.
Hosting also the Smolny Convent, even not being so famous by their name, the Smolny Cathedral appears in many postcards of St.Petersburg.
In fact there is not much to explore inside and the best thing around there is to appreciate its beauty outside.
So when you get closer to it you are already done with this attraction and you can proceed to the Island Fortress of Peter and Paul.
Peter and Paul fortress
Heading to the north bank of the Neva River we find the Peter and Paul fortress.
The same way Kremlin is the citadel of Moscow, the Peter and Paul fortress (Petropavlosvskaya krepost) is the citadel (fortified city) of SPB.
Covering the whole island the territory of the fortress also encompasses the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the long golden tower of which is one of the symbols of the city and can be seen from a great distance if you stand close to the river.
While visiting the fortress you can see many places in which Beauty meets History and if you are over there around midday, you cannot miss the daily ceremony of the soldiers firing a cannon.
The soldiers play a mysterious instrumental song and when you least expect it… BOOM!
It is really impressive!
Especially because through all the days you will be walking around in St.Petersburg you are going to remember this: you are on the other side of the town, the clock strikes exactly midday and BOOM!
You will hear the cannon shot!
Here is a sample video but no microphone is able to transmit the same loudness and air displacement feeling of a cannon shot.
You must go there and witness it yourself!
The place itself is pretty adapted for wheelchair users.
Inside the fortress building there may be some steps but the big garden inside is pretty flat, despite some pathways paved with cobblestones.
After Peter and Paul fortress and cathedral it is time to head for the Palace Square and finally visit the Hermitage museum!
The Winter Palace, one of the six buildings comprising the Hemitage Museum was, in the Tsars era, the most important of the Russian palaces: it was the official residence of the Russian Emperor.
Behind the palace there flows the Neva River and its front faces the Palace Square: the biggest and most important square of Saint Petersburg.
The square has the shape of a huge half circle and in the centre of it there stands the Alexander Column, erected to celebrate the victory over Napoleon.
Made from a single piece of rock it is the biggest of its kind in the world.
The Palace Square also has a historical importance for Russia, hence there the Bolsheviks made their final assault during the October Revolution, invading the Winter Palace.
Around the square you can have a ride in a chariot.
It is quite fancy and emphasizes the royal atmosphere.
The Hermitage museum is one of the most important museums of the world.
Founded by Catherine the Great, it has the largest collection of paintings in the world.
The total collection exceeds 3 million items!
There you can see works of art from most of the great masters of all eras.
In fact, it should take one whole day or more to see a considerable part of these works of art, so you might want to reserve at least 2 hours to wander around the many different rooms of the palace.
It’s normally crowded so it is better to check if you can book tickets in advance to avoid queues and don’t go there if you are too short of time.
For a wheelchair user the entrance may be a little problematic since the main entrance – where you have to get and show the ticket – is not adapted.
With the help of some fellow tourists you can climb up the 7 to 10 steps.
The building inside is pretty well adapted, with elevators taking you to upper floors.
If I remember well, near the exit we have found a back door with a ramp, or something similar (I just remember that leaving the building was easier than entering), so maybe that was the right way to go.
However, the staff failed to mention this.
Anyway, as long as our trip was a couple years ago, I would expect that by now the museum is much more adapted.
When you go there, please tell me in the comments how it works now, ok?
An insider’s tip:
In a few rooms sometimes you manage to see an open window, so don’t miss the chance to have a peek of the view to Palace Square just the way the Tsars saw it in the past, with the whole square in front of you.
The view is magnificent! 😉
It is also impressive to see the throne of the Russian Tsar there:
After having the great experience of visiting the Hermitage Museum (I’m sure it was great! 😉 you can also have a quick pit stop in the side street, where you can find many stands selling snacks and beverages, and you will see that most of the people cross this street.
Already recovered, I would suggest you go to the western direction and head first to St. Isaac Cathedral (and the St. Isaac Square) with its golden dome that you can see reflecting the sun from a GREAT distance…
… And then to the Yusupov Palace. The “Yusupov” (actually named as Moika Palace) is famous because this was the site of the death of Rasputin.
In fact, the place offers much more than being the place of death of the mystical counselor for the Tsar and his wife, as long as it was the residence of Prince Felix Yusupov and you can find luxurious interior there.
To tell you the truth, after the Hermitage, I took a small detour that made a total difference in my experience in Saint Petersburg as a whole.
I will tell you more about it, as well as the rest of the tour, in the second part of this post. I can assure you that it is worth waiting!