It's always a good idea to have a loose plan of what you want to do and see when you're visiting a new place. Tyler and I made an expansive list, of which we only made a dent. We picked our priorities for each day and then let the rest happen as it would. We didn't follow an itinerary or abide by a guidebook, which is my favorite way to travel anyways. Sometimes the most memorable things that happen on vacation are the ones you didn't plan for at all.
On that morning blizzard walk to breakfast, Tyler surprised me by taking me through Palace Square. I was just minding my own business, keeping my eyes glued to the ground, because if I looked up I'd be bombarded with snow to the face, when all of a sudden something caught my eye. Around the corner, as if out of nowhere, was the Winter Palace, home to The Hermitage Museum.
We practically had the entire square to ourselves, but hurried off to breakfast after picking my jaw up off the snowy ground, knowing we'd be back shortly.
The blizzard cleared by the time we finished eating, and we headed back to the palace.
The STATE Hermitage Museum
We arrived just after the museum opened and bought our tickets at the automated machines within the palace walls. This turned out to be much faster than waiting in line inside. Once our coats were checked, the place was ours to roam about.
Don't forget to look up!
The Museum is filled with paintings from around the world, furniture, original to the palace, sarcophagi and statues from Ancient Rome, icons dating back to the 13th century. The list goes on and on. Check out a virtual tour here.
Everyone has raved to us about how great the Russian Museum is. I really didn't understand what all the hoopla was about until I took a look for myself.
Any museum which houses a painting of two men wearing nothing but underwear and black socks, playing music, is certainly worth a visit.
The museum features only Russian artists and the artworks is quite unique. I highly recommend a visit. Currently there is a Kandinsky exhibit that we were able to catch before it moves on.
My favorite to the right - "Warm Day" by Anatoly Levitin
Church of OUR SAVIOR ON SPILLED BLOOD
The reason for its name is quite literal. On March 13, 1881, Alexander II was following his normal Sunday routine, crossing by carriage over the very place where the church now stands, when a set of revolutionaries threw bombs at him. Alexander was hurried to the Winter Palace, still clinging to life, but alas he died that very day.
Two years later, his son, Alexander III (not very original with names, these royals) began orders to construct a church in his father's memory. The church wasn't completed until 1907, after the third Alexander had already passed. (The bust photographed in the Hermitage section of this post is of Alexander II and is placed in the very room where he died.)
Once inside, it's difficult to not be overwhelmed. You don't need to be religious to appreciate the incredible workmanship and artistry of every inch of this place.
I kept my head placed firmly back and walked with my eyes to the skies. I could only imagine what this place must have been like, filled with stonemasons and famous artists of the time like Viktor Vasnetsov and Mikhail Vrubel. It's a wonder it didn't take longer to finish.
Saint Isaac's Cathedral
If there's one thing that I'm going to do again when I undoubtedly return to St. Petersburg, it's visit St. Isaac's Cathedral. It wasn't the inside that had me stirring, but rather the view it offered of the city.
Once you've seen the inside (next time, I'd skip the ticket for both, and just get one for the tower), exit through the same way you came in and go to the right. You'll see an opening that will lead you to 300 steps.
It's old and damp and the stairs seem to go on for eternity. Hang in there, it's going to be worth it.
Didn't I tell you?
The tower boasts a 360 degree view of the city. Despite the overcast day, we were still able to spot The Hermitage and take in much of the city's splendor. I'd love to return on a sunny day in the spring (hmmm...the wheels are turning already).
Ok, so Saint Isaac's isn't the only place I'm hungry to return to (honestly the entire city has me wanting more). Tyler and I bought tickets to see Giselle at the world-renowned Mariisnky Theatre. We sat in a box near the front and could practically hear the gentle pitter patter of the ballerina's feet as they landed gracefully after each jeté, assemblé, and brisé.
The performance was flawless and the experience, astounding. Photos aren't allowed during the ballet, but I was able to get some during the bow.
Get tickets ahead of time and if you are sitting in a box or balcony, make sure you choose the front row. We had an unobstructed view that was worth the extra penny.
I said earlier that we didn't get to everything on our list. Here are a few others that we'll try to get to next time: Dostoevsky Museum, Peter and Paul Fortress, Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad, Museum of Political History, and Peterhof.
I'm also eager to visit the homes of some great writers whose work is seemingly immortal. Many of them are listed here.
Maybe you've been wondering where all the food is. How could we possibly be keeping so busy and walking an average of nine miles each day without satiating ourselves. Well, don't you worry. Tomorrow it's all about the tastebuds!