It’s half September and off-season in St. Petersburg. With a backpack filled with winter clothes, for the rest of our trip on the Trans Mongolian Railway, Leslie and I land in Russia. Reading about the long summer days in the White Night season, I was bummed to miss out on this. But we arrive in a bright and sunny St. Petersburg. We’re happily surprised to explore the historic heart of the city by foot and with our shades on.
Peter I the Great was tsar of Russia from 1682 until his death in 1725. He had a special band with Holland. When he was 25 he went on a study trip through Europe. Holland was one of the countries he visited. When the tsar decided around 1700 to establish a new capital he finds his inspiration in the Amsterdam city plan. He copies the streets and canal patterns to St. Petersburg. The city is build on a few islands connected by 342 bridges. We couldn’t feel more at home. From the end of April to November all bridges across the Neva River rise at around 01:30am to let ships pass through the city and into the rest of the world. This makes an impressive, beautiful lit sight.
We wander around the city and gasp at the palaces, numerous churches and ornate art deco architecture. Round and vertex towers rise above the other buildings everywhere you look. All glazed with a layer of gold. Endless pink, yellow and green houses rowing up besides the canals. To escape the city buzz there is always a garden or park, with numerous fountains and statues, near to rest. In need of a caffeine fix? There are various hip coffee spots serving good coffee and typical Russian pancakes. We especially liked Coffee 22 on Kazanskaya street and Cafe on Zhukovskogo street 2, both serving cappuccino with soy milk J. The looks and young, creative vibe of the city next to the rich history hasn’t been unmentioned. St. Petersburg was just named the best destination in Europe at the World Travel Awards.
The Hermitage and Peter the Great’s Winter Palace are definitely not to miss. Catherine the Great was one of the greatest art collectors of all time. Her collection beholds three million pieces of art. For our visit to the museum this means one million pieces per hour. But that’s not all, the beautiful designed auditoriums, halls and staircases are just as spectacular. Overwhelmed we go outside and sit down at the church on the Spilt Blood while the sun sets. We walk to Zhukovskogo street, one of the city’s best bar streets and make a toast, with our first Russian Bloody Mary’s, to an impressive start of our great adventure.