I have to start this blog post with an upfront confession. When I decided to book my trip to Russia, I didn’t actually think too much about what it would be like. In my head, I had this preconceived idea of a more modern Vietnam, perhaps crossed with a bit of East Berlin, with remaining ‘communist’ influence everywhere. Between that and the constant bad press Russia receives, I couldn’t have been more surprised and delighted by the reality.
On arrival at St Petersburg, I have to say we were somewhat amused by the customs officers. There were no big scary men with guns as I anticipated, however there was a short customs man stomping about in an absolutely giant hat, and another customs lady strutting around in high heals and a short skirt while we waitress to clear passport control. The pair really did look quite ridiculous.
For our trip we decided on a tour, and we met our guide on our first night in St Petersburg. Tanya was our guide and she was awesome. So fun and full of personality, as well as pride for her country, and an open mind in terms of our questions about life in Russia. One question we asked, was is Putin popular, and what do you think of what happened in Crimea. When Putin was elected for the first time in 2000, he was an unknown, having been put forward by Boris Yeltsin. After two terms and 8 years in office he was unable to continue as president, however the law conveniently changed so that now he is 4 years into a 6 year term. Supposedly, Putin is admired by many Russians for returning Russian self confidence and self respect following the collapse of the Soviet Union and recovery. In 2012 when he was elected again, Putin had only 55% support. After Sochi, 65%, and then after Crimea, 85%! Reclaiming Criemea, as the Russians see it, is historical justice for Russian territory which was lost after the collapse of the USSR. Hearing the Russian side, coupled with the western media view, I can see why it happened although I of course can’t agree with the how. So long story short, yes Putin is very popular.
Nevsky Prospoct is the main boulevard in St Petersburg and the heart of the old city centre. This street and the surrounds were our location for our first nights dinner and are absolutely beautiful! The city is full of gorgeous classical Russian Architecture which remains from the time of the Tsars, having survived the various wars as well as the communist era and it has all been refurbished since the fall of the Soviet Union. The white on pastel of these buildings really is stunning when coupled with all the fantastic New Years Eve lights.
Our first full day we visited the Winter Palace / Hermitage museum in St Petersburg as well as the Church of our Saviour on Blood and a drive around the city to take in the key sites. As it was also Christmas Day we had a big dinner with everyone, enjoying tradition Russian food and several Vodkas.
Our second day we visited one of the Summer residences of the Tsars in Pushkin, near St Petersburg. After the October revolution, the Bolsheviks and communists opted to keep all the palaces open in order for the ordinary Russian people to see the way the Tsar’s and emperors were living, to show them why a revolution was necessary. Catherine’s palace was very beautiful, and is nestled amoungst a normal Russian town which was interested get to see. After the palace we had traditional Russian food fork lunch including Borsh and Stroganoff, all of which was delicious. Our next stop was Peter and Paul Fortress, The birthplace of the city of St Petersburg. After a Loooooooong day we enjoyed a Russian folk show including proper Russian dancing before heading to catch our sleeper train to Moscow. The sleeper train was amazing and and comfortable with cabins with bunks of 4.
Overall, St Petersburg was a beautiful city and if the opportunity came up again to visit, I would definitely take it and would encourage everyone else to do the same. It is so clean and orderly and we felt incredibly safe the whole time we were there.
Nevsky Prospect New Years Eve lights
Russian Classical Architecture
New friends at the Church of Our Saviour on Blood
Political Russian Dolls. Putin, Yeltsin, Khrushchev, Stalin, Lenin.
The Winter Palace, now the Hermitage Museum
Outside the Winter Palace
The Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood by day
Russian Orthodox Cathedral
Frozen River and the Winter Palace
So many mirrors!
Outside Catherine Palace
Typical Russian Housing in Pushkin
Church within Peter and Paul fortress