Traveling in Europe had become very simplified. No passport controls, borders between countries and those long lines that used to take away a third of our lives. But the trip to St. Petersburg was different for us and magical in many perspectives.
Short existence, many lives takes
St. Petersburg is a relatively young city, but it has an incredibly rich history. It was founded in 1703 by Emperor Peter the Great with a purpose to be a window to the west. The city was built under adverse weather and geographical conditions: high mortality rate required a constant supply of workers. Peter the Great ordered a yearly conscription of 40,000 serfs.
In 1712 St. Petersburg had become Russian capital and maintained as it for 200 years. Well known writers Dostoevsky and Pushkin also left their mark on this great city. It’s a little wonder for many photographers: built on more than a hundred islands in the Neva Delta linked by canals and arched bridges and it was called the “Venice of the North” by Goethe. In St. Petersburg the main transportation vehicles were boats. There were only 12 permanent bridges over smaller waterways, while the Neva was crossed by boats in the summertime and by foot or horse carriages during winter. A pontoon bridge over Neva was built every summer.
The strategic place of St. Petersburg was used by germans. During their occupation daily supplies could have been brought through the frozen lake Lagoda. The German military systematically shelled this route, called the Road of Life, so thousands of cars with people and food supplies had sank in the lake. About 1,2 million of 3 million St. Petersburg (back then called Leningrad) civilians lost their lives because of bombardment, starvation, infections and stress. About 1 million civilians escaped with evacuation, mainly by foot. The city eventually became an empty “ghost-city” with thousands of ruined and abandoned homes.
Nevertheless it’s grace, glamour and history continue to attract visitors and travellers to its world-class museums, palaces and cultural institutions. And as the locals say: people move to Moscow for business and they move to St. Petersburg in search of love. Now you know where to go!
Traveling in time
I never imagined I could travel in time. Seriously. That minute we stepped off the bus in St. Petersburg we faced a different reality that we were used to.
The exterior, the way people dress, the metro and the whole atmosphere was ‘outdated’… It is hard to describe that feeling we had. It seemed that many things had stopped at late 90’s in Russia. After this welcoming shock, St. Petersburg unlock it’s real treasures that can be found at the city center.
Most visitors have similar intentions while visiting St. Petersburg. There is so much to see there that usually they take a guided tour. We chose to explore it on our own.
Story lies beneath every building
Peter and Paul fortress was one of the first buildings in St. Petersburg. It never saw a battle, but instead became a political prison for Peter’s the Great son and others. It was build on a small island on Neva delta. So it’s beautiful either to look at it from one of the main bridges or get inside and check one of the many museums. By the fortress you can see a long sandy beach and enjoy sunbathes during the sunny days, and the locals enjoy spending time by getting a tan here.
The magnificent Hermitage Museum was a residence for many Romanovs. You probably wondered how does one of the best European art museums look like. It still has hundred of halls covered with red carpets and decorated with sculptures and wood carvings painted in gold. The palace interior remain the same preserved till the present days and now is open to visitors. But save some time for it, because as being one of the main attractions at the city it takes time not only by standing in long line, but also to actually go over all exhibitions.
You will be amazed the minute you step into the grandiose Palace Square. It can be filled with hundreds of street sweepers and you’ll still find enough place to meditate.
You can enjoy one of the greatest views of St. Petersburg from the top St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It is fourth largest cathedral in the world and it has a gilded dome covered in 100 kilograms of pure gold. St. Isaac’s cathedral is ranked as number one in the world for the richness of its interior decoration. So you won’t miss a thing by visiting it.
One of the most wonderful and famous cathedrals of the city is Savior on the Spilled Blood. It was build to mark the tragic death of Alexander II who held a lot of advanced reforms in the country. It takes the same place as Hermitage to be a symbol of St. Petersburg and you have to stand a line to take a picture of it.
The main street of the city – the Nevsky Prospect, was named after the great Neva river. It used to be called “the street of all religions” as churches of different confessions are situated there. We were lucky to see the traditional procession of transfer of the relics in this main street, when crowds of religious people and their leaders walk the Nevsky prospect.
It is the center of the modern life of St. Petersburg so you can find all the restaurants and cafes there (one of our favorite is also there – called Food Market). And enjoy the unforgettable view.
At the evening you can enjoy illuminated panoramic view of St. Petersburg and a sun going down to the Neva river. And take a look at nearby Rostral Columns – victory columns on which the prows (“rostra”) of captured enemy ships were mounted, on holidays such as the City Anniversary, Victory Day and New Year, the columns are topped with seven-meter-high tongues of flame.
Last, but not the least! There are 342 bridges in total in St. Petersburg. So if you are heading out to the city center make sure you have a plan how to get back to your accommodation at night as the drawbridges have opening times and they remain raised overnight.
All words by Eisve Treciakauskaite and all images by Justinas Lekavicius, unless otherwise noted.