St. Petersburg, Day 1

When I visit a city, I generally do not try to cram in too much and would spend a fair amount of time in one or two places a day. That approach went out the window in St. Petersburg because I don’t know if I’d ever come back. So, we booked a whirlwind tour that gave us the highlights of the city and would make my friend Maria proud.

As we left the cruise port on the way to Peterhof, all we saw were these cinder brick monstrosity of apartment buildings obviously from the Soviet era. All I could think of was where were the imperial grandeur and magnificent architecture that I was expecting from the seat of Tsars of Russia. I need not worry – Peterhof more than answered the mail.

Peter the Great’s summer palace is known for its fountains and I will cover that later but first is the palace itself. Since we could not fit a visit to Catherine’s Palace, we decided to tour the interior of Peterhof. The Russian royal family and nobles know how to do over-the-top opulence including seemingly gilding every available surface with gold without being garish. We were not allowed to take pictures of the interior of Peterhof, so here is a picture of the exterior of the part of Peterhof built for Empress Elizabeth.

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And the fountains were a sight to behold.

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And then we were off to lunch as this cute and kitschy café with our guide. The interior was decorated in what you would imagine a Russian country cottage would look like in a fairytale. The food was tasty and reasonably priced. The café attracted tourists and locals alike. How do I know? As we were leaving, we passed by two police officers having lunch.

After lunch, we were off to Yusupov Palace. This is one of the great palaces of the very rich Russian aristocratic family that had ties to the royal family. Its place in history was solidified when the last Prince Yusupov and his co-conspirators killed Rasputin in the basement of the palace. Our guide had an interesting take on Rasputin. While he is generally portrayed as this sinister person who exploited the Empress Alexandria’s understandable concern for her son, our guide saw him as a courageous and unselfish peasant who was trying to save the Romanov house because he was the only one who could treat the lone heir to the throne. In any case, as we were viewing the room of the first attempt to kill Rasputin, we ran into Rosie’s friend with whom we were meeting for dinner later that day.

Beyond that historical event, the palace itself rivaled any royal residence in Europe. Beyond the usual decoration and furniture made of precious and semi-precious stone and jewels and awesome architectural feature, how about this for a home theater.

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We then did a walking tour that included St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. They are as magnificent as the pictures in travel guides suggest.

 

We did so much walking that day that our Fitbit told us that we took 20,000+ steps that day. But we were not done, we still had the Faberge museum and dinner left. We were so tired that all we really focused on were the imperial eggs and did not really appreciate the rest of the museum which had a fabulous collection of porcelain art. Rosie ran into her friend again at this museum. I was too oblivious to notice but was happy to see them again at dinner at Palkin.

Rosie’s friend is a foodie and chose Palkin because of its long 200+ year history and its reputation of serving fine Russian cuisine. Since I was likely to have dinner only once in Russia, I went with the 9-course tasting menu. It was yummy and worth every penny.

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