On the road back to Saint Petersburg – welcoming the roots of this lively city

In June 2017, we are on the road again, this time to Saint Petersburg. It is my fourth time in Saint Petersburg. We live in a small appartment, about ten minutes away from the Isaac Cathedral. It is a cosy appartment with high ceilings.

There is a lot to see in Saint Petersburg: The palaces, the museums, the Newsky Prospect, the Newa and the channels, the cathedrals and the monasteries. But Saint Peterburg can also be a relaxing experience with great shops, many cosy coffee houses, restaurants and beautiful parks. Since my last stay in Petersburg in 2013, I perceive that the city has become cleaner and many more houses have been renovated.

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Welcoming Petersburg at the Newa water line with the Winter Palace and Ermitage

From the Peter and Paul Fortress, there is a great view of the Winter Palace and the Ermitage bordering the Newa.

It is the time of White Nights… late in the evening around eleven, it is almost day light. This is the late evening view from Vasilyevsky island.

And yes, Russians love to do fishing (they call it рыбалка or rybalka).

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Welcoming Petersburg in the small park with the Aztecan Gods: Tlaloc, please abstain from bringing rain…

Not far from Strelka, there is a small park with Aztecan Gods. We ask them to abstain from bringing showers that can be a a very wet experience in Petersburg.

Well… thank you, Tlaloc, you produced good weather for our excursions. And sometimes you caught us in heavy rain showers.

In Petersburg, the clouds open suddenly and pour water on to the roofs and streets. The roofs cannot hold it back and the drains dump water on to the sidewalks. The result are deep puddles that pedestrians have to jump across. A “Petersburgian” shower makes everyone wet through within five minutes.

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Back to the roots of Russia: Alexander Newsky

The Newsky Prospect starts at the Alexander Newsky Monastery (one of the five most important orthodox monasteries called “Lavra” or лавра). We visited it in the pouring rain.

For Novgorod, Alexander conquered Karelia from Sweden in 1240. The battle took place on the Newa, hence his name “Newsky”. Peter the Great felt related with Alexander Newsky, as he regained Karelia from Sweden. He asked Trezzini from Switzerland to build the monastery in Barock style. Starow, a Russian architect, completed the monastery in classical style. There are two cemeteries and Dostoewsky has been buried here.

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The Hare Island where Peter the Great set the foundation of Petersburg

In 1703, Peter the Great started to build Saint Petersburg on the Hare Island fortifying it with the Peter and Paul Fortress. We stroll along the fortress and visit the Saint Peter and Paul church that – like the monastery of Alexander Newsky – has been designed by the Swiss architect Trezzini.

The grave of Peter the Great is decorated with flowers. Outside we find his bronze statue. It has been created by Michail Schemjakin and it is controversial, because it shows Peter the Great as a tall man with a small head (he was more than 2m tall and his head was, indeed, relatively small).

Well whatever… Peter was a man with visions and without him, Russia would not be Russia today. At the entrance gate, a wood carved panel praises his victory over the Swedes that provided Russia with access to the Gulf of Finland. It links Peter’s success with the victory of Petrus over Simon.

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My own roots or links to Saint Petersburg – memories of my friend Anna who grew up in Leningrad

My year-long Russian teacher, Anna, had grown up in Saint Petersburg, when it was still called Leningrad. That is why I also have links with the city.

The first link is related with the mosque located near the Fortress of Saint Peter and Paul. It has been built in the beginning of the 20th century – to resemble the mosque of Samarkand. Anna’s grandfather, Vaulin, had made the blue tiles.

My second link is a little farther north on Kameny Ostrowsky Prospect where Saint Petersburg set up a park for Anna’s cousin Andrej Petrow, a well-known composer in Russia. The park is decorated with humoresque musical instruments such as this violin on high heals.

I wish you were still with me – here in your home town, Anna.

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So much to see in and around Saint Petersburg – the four weeks we spent here did not suffice

We spent four weeks in Saint Petersburg. We visited the Ermitage, the Russian museum (both several times) and the new Fabergé museum. We explored palaces (such as the palace of Jussupow or the Stroganoff palace). We saw cathedrals and churches such as Smolny and Saint Nicolas Naval. Twice we took a boat on the channels of the city. Twice we went to the Alexandrinsky Theatre where a friend of ours is working as an actor. And then we also enjoyed the shopping experience and on sunny days, we relaxed in one of the many parks of Saint Petersburg.

Attractions around Saint Petersburg that we saw are Peterhof, Puschkin or Zarskoe Selo, Novgorod and Karelia. In Karelia we enjoyed an afternoon in Repino and a day in the datscha of a friend. And we made a three days excursion to see Kizhi and the lake Onega.

Four weeks do not suffice to see it all… yes, Saint Petersburg is worth a visit! I think of going back to Saint Petersburg.

Our main literature sources are: Christine Hamel, “Russland”, Dumont 2011; Marcus X. Schmid, “St. Petersburg”, Michael Müller Verlag 2017; “Russia”, Dorling Kindersley 2016; Lonely Planets for Russia and Saint Petersburg; Vitaly Kulescha, “St. Petersburg Wishes Guidebook”, Piter 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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