Tallinn to St Petersburg: Bus Tour – Part 2Friday, June 17, 2016 Sightseeing and Landmarks by admin
In the previous post I showed you the cool things I have done in Saint Petersburg until my visit to the Hermitage museum. Today I will show you what happened next (and it was great!).
Maybe you don’t know, but I’m a big football fan. Living in Estonia, where there are no big clubs qualifying for the Champions League, the closest city with such a team is Saint Petersburg, more specifically Zenit St.Petersburg. So that trip was a great chance for me to watch a major football match after a long while.
DAY 2: Zenit Match and my Near-Historic Experience
It happened that in July 2013 Zenit FC was starting the new season and on top of that they were adopting a newer crest for the team, in the shape of an arrow.
Coincidence or not, there is a part of Saint Petersburg that is known as “The Arrow of Saint Petersburg”, due to the arrow shape of it seen from above.
The fans of the club then decided, for the first match day of the new season, to celebrate the “christening” of the new logo, to start a massive march towards the stadium starting from the “tip of the arrow”, most specifically the region of the Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange. As long as this place was just a bridge’s length away from the Hermitage museum, there I went with my wife to witness this unique moment!
Arriving at Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange, we saw a huge mass of fans in light blue (the color of Zenit FC) with flags, scarves, fireworks and other stuff producing light blue smoke.
Despite the whole excitement of the story, I will interrupt it a little and comment quickly about this “tip of the arrow”: besides the Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange, which has a very nice Classic Greek style (the photo above), it also figures two very special columns.
Known as Rostral Columns, these columns are also a symbol of the city: Their unique shape with ships crossing through them, were inspired by Rostral Columns in Greece, where these prowls were made from actual enemy ships, but that is not the case of this Russian one, hehehe… In fact the columns serve as beacons for navigation, and on top there are torches that are lit on special occasions.
Back to the Zenit FC crowd, starting at the appointed time, they started the march, with a massive crowd in a pilgrimage towards Petrovsky stadium, around 2 kilometers from there.
Despite the fact that match was not against a big rival (the opponent was FC Kuban), the march was closely followed by heavily armed policemen who brought their equipment and big cars right behind the crowd, just to keep things under control. In the picture below you see the line of Police vehicles destined to escort the supporters.
Why that was a unique moment for me?
It was my first time in a big crowd of fans in Europe going to a football match and on top of that I could see so such excitement in their faces. They were singing their fan chants like they do in the stadium. I know that their flags were light blue and not red, but to be in the middle of a crowd marching together, screaming things in Russian (I got no idea what they were actually saying) it was the closest to what witnessing the Soviet Revolution must have felt like! It was as if I was living and participating in the October Revolution, hehehe…
Seriously, that was an unforgettable moment in my life!!!
Arriving at the Zenit Arena, that is curiously located on an Island, all the supporters need to cross a bridge to access the stadium.
At that point, I didn’t have tickets and the match was all sold out, there were even no tickets for wheelchair users. When I was practically giving up the idea of watching the match, we decided to try and get tickets for the supporters of the visitor team… and we managed to get them!
Entering the Zenit Stadium on a wheelchair was easy: everything was adapted, and the best of it all is that the place for wheelchair users is VERY close to the pitch: right behind the advertisement boards, so we could see stars like Axel Witsel (Belgium) and Andrey Arshavin (Russia) very close sometimes! 😀
In the picture below, there’s the area with the ramp, very close to the pitch.
Before the match the whole crowd in Petrovsky Station sang the Russian anthem, and that moment I felt the strength and pride of the Russian people, with the whole stadium singing their hearts out. No matter if you agree or not with the Russians, to watch the manifestation of people’s power is really impressive!
The match itself was very good, but, let’s be frank: I have not thought much about it after so many emotions, that was quite enough for the day!
DAY 3: Nevsky Avenue, Spas na Krovy Church and Traditional Dinner
Nevsky Prospekt: Let’s have a walk!
We started the third day with a walk through the main (and most charming) street of St.Petersburg: Nevsky Avenue, or Nevsky Prospekt as it is actually known.
Wandering around enjoying the nice architecture of the buildings, discovering shops, nice cafés, seeing people and being seen is as pleasant as walking in Champs Elysées.
Besides the nice cafés and shops, a not-to-miss attraction on this avenue is the Kazan Cathedral, which has also a very beautiful garden to wander around.
The most famous place in St.Petersburg: Spas na Krovi!
Continuing on the Nevsky Prospekt, if you turn north to the Griboyedov Canal crossing, walking around 500 meters you will find the most famous tourist attraction of Saint Petersburg: The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood !
Known also as Spas na Krovi, the Church of the Savior on Blood owes its fame to the onion domes that are very, VERY colorful and have different shapes and textures! Check them out!
If from outside the Church of our Savior is already breathtaking – and will result in great photos and selfies – the interior exceeds all expectations with the Medieval Russian architecture and covered in paintings with the best Byzantine Orthodox style.
But that’s not all of it:
You can actually take a little piece of the church with you! Inside there is a souvenir shop selling reproductions of the sacred paintings. A must if you like art or have a religious relative to whom you want to bring a souvenir from Saint Petersburg!
The place itself is adapted, with an access ramp in the back door.
After having finished your breathtaking experience, a good opportunity to recover your breath if you are into photography is going back to Nevsky Prospekt through the same canal street, admiring the Church of the Savior from afar, in perspective, matching with the buildings and the canal. In the middle of this street, when you find a small bridge, do not miss the chance of taking great pictures from there too!
6 facts that make the subway in Saint Petersburg a real must
Returning to Nevsky Prospekt, you can either continue your walk through the boulevard or go somewhere else by St.Petersburg Metro. From that area, the closest station is also called Nevsky Prospekt (Coincidence? 😉 and now you will understand why taking the Metro in St.Petersburg is such a unique experience.
As well as in Moscow, the St. Petersburg Metro follows the best tradition of the Soviet subway stations, so I can list here some reasons why you cannot miss this experience:
- It’s really deep. Very deep. In some cases, you see the beginning of the escalator but it is hard to see where it ends. This happens because the underground line has to pass under the river and canals. Patience is required.
- The look of one station is completely different from the others. Another decorative style, different colors, details, so at every station you go to, don’t miss the chance to see the details. It is a true everyday public art gallery.
- Be prepared for a lot of communist visual propaganda. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians have kept the subway stations as they were at the time and their Soviet heroes continue to decorate the walls, so I even risk saying that the Russian Subway as a whole is one of the best-preserved reminders of the Soviet Era. Enjoy it as a living piece of History.
- In times of magnetic cards with multi-trip credits, the Saint Petersburg Metro maintains the most traditional kind of metro token: a metal coin. They are the credits for the subway – and they are really beautiful – so if you collect coins, or has a friend who collects, this metal token is not only a very special souvenir, but it has a chance of becoming rare, hence we don’t know if they will change the coin system overnight.
- The trains are very simple – not to say old – but they are not exactly uncomfortable. A very curious thing that happens due to this old functioning is: when the train approaches the next station and starts decreasing speed, there happens a small breakdown, and a quick power outage makes the whole train on blackout for 1 or 2 seconds. All the commuters behave normally, as if nothing has happened, as they all know it from the start, but you as a newcomer really do not see it coming! I even made a small video to show this “phenomenon”:
- In many stations the platforms are just like elevator doors: you don’t actually see the train coming, you only hear it, and when it stops, the “elevator doors” open for you to get in. I don’t know if in other places this is normal, but for me that was kind of funny!
Here a small video where you can see how it really looks like:
Due to the great depth of each station, all of them have escalators, that makes the access for wheelchair users quite possible, when you request help and somebody from the staff comes to help you. You may need to wait for a while, but at least you can fully use it.
Traditional Music and Dance Dinner Show
Another thing I suggest that may sound quite touristy, but as long as you are there I think you simply must try to check, is a presentation of traditional Russian music. The Russian culture actually comes from many different ethnic groups with their own tradition that merged into something very unique, colorful, and rich in costumes, music and dance.
On top of all that, this is a great opportunity to blow away an image that Russians are cold and reserved. You are gonna see that Russians are cheerful and enthusiastic in this joyful atmosphere.
Normally a dinner is served with traditional food and drinks (not only vodka, but also beer), and then the Russian pocket show starts with traditional music – with the accompaniment of balalaika, accordion and other instruments – and dance performances with traditional clothes, very unique and colorful. In addition to this, the performers interact with the audience, making it an even more relaxing and fun experience. If I were you, I would really indulge myself considering this. The show I attended was at a restaurant called Tchaikovsky, but I’m pretty sure you can find shows like this at many other restaurants, just Google it!
DAY 4: Tsarskoye Selo and farewell to Russia
For the last day of my short trip to St. Petersburg we were expected to visit Tsarskoye Selo, which can be translated from Russian as “The village of the Tsar” or “Royal village”. Located 24km south of St.Petersburg, Tsarskoye Selo was formerly the residence of the Russian imperial family. A small complex of palaces, beautiful constructions with big beautiful gardens and parks, just like Peterhof, but less crowded.
The most important place to visit there is the Catherine Palace, named after Catherine the Great.
With many rooms covered with gold, I can assure you that the experience of being surrounded by the most precious metal is VERY unique (and feels good!). And will also result in great selfies.
Besides gold, the Catherine Palace has many more surprises in store for your eyes, like this room, that not only has its walls covered with gold, but also its floor is made with the best of wood craftsmanship…
… and its ceiling is covered with one of the biggest fresco paintings I have ever seen! The best of three worlds in just one room. The fresco is so big that it was impossible to catch it all in one picture!
At this point we have seen a lot of things that remind us of the Golden Era of the tsar in Russia, but few things will make it more present and evident than the dress that Catherine The Great had worn at that time. It feels like she is there, right before your eyes!
As if there was nothing else to make a great impression of the place, there comes another one that goes BOOM: The Amber Room!
A small place, with a few square meters, is like a room-shaped gem, one of the most important and impressive rooms in the world.
Just look at this:
Made solely of amber, gold leaf and mirrors, this amber room is so important for the Russians that it is forbidden to take photos of it (these photos were taken by trusted authorized sources and available in official sites) and based on what I read in the forums, some people were even scolded when they asked the staff WHY no one can take photos of it!
The history of this room is so unique: it was made in Berlin City Palace (that time Berlin was part of Prussia) in the 18th century with 6 tons of amber (of 150 different tones), it was given from the Prussian king to the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, as a gift for the new ally. At that time it was considered to be the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and maybe because of that it was looted in World War II by the Germans, who took it back to Germany. The whereabouts of the original room remain a mystery but in 1979 the Soviet government decided to rebuild the Amber Room in Tsarskoye Selo.
After more than 2 decades of efforts of skilled craftsmen (40 experts in amber craftsmanship, using drawings and old photographs as a reference), the Amber Room was finally rebuilt and inaugurated in 2003 at the Catherine Palace.
You cannot actually enter the room itself. There is a narrow corridor leading to the room, with lots of people waiting in line to devour it with their eyes for a few minutes, so enjoy that moment to the full and tell me in the comments how it was.
For wheelchair users, you can have access requesting help from the staff, who will lead you through service doors to elevators and ramps. Once inside, there are no more obstacles.
Despite the overwhelming feeling that the Catherine Palace provides, Tsarskoye Selo is not only the imperial palace, there are PLENTY of things to do out there. It would actually take a full day to explore all the places properly, but you can still see some other places close to the Catherine Palace. For example, the Catherine Park where, like in Peterhof, you can also have a real feel of how the royals lived, while you are wandering through the gardens.
The Cameron Gallery (which stairs didn’t let me inside and I was left to enjoy it form outside).
And another small Hermitage!
This one more similar to its older brother in St. Petersburg, hehehe…
And it also has the checkered floors!
Besides all that, Tsarskoye Selo has plenty of other things, if you can afford a full day there, don’t miss the Alexander Palace and its huge Alexander Park, St. Fyodor’s Cathedral, The Chinese Theatre and Chinese Village, the Great Pond with Turkish Bath and the Hall in the Island. Believe me, it is well worth it!
After this my adventure in Russia was over, but just temporarily: now, after remembering so many great things I have seen there, I’m already considering coming back there this summer to enjoy it again!
See you in the next post!