Last week I had to travel to Saint Petersburg for work. I was only there for a period of 3 days, but I took every opportunity to explore the city outside-office hours. It is worthwhile to begin any Russian trip 2 months in advance for visas, tickets and hotels. Hotels are often booked out and fairly expensive, the visa administrative process is lengthy, and flight connections to and from Russia are not always favorable.
Nevertheless, I made it. Ripped off by taxi drivers, but nevertheless I arrived in one piece.
St. Petersburg was built by the Tsar, or otherwise known as Peter the Great. He had a wild vision at the time to build this city on many swampy islands. The Tsar's far reaching visions and ambitions paid off as St. Petersburg now stands magnificantly with lavish architecture, intricately halls of renaissance art and mix of deep-setted Soviet culture.
So here are some of the pictures I took on a cloudy evening in St. Petersburg, with locations that are all within walking distance. My hotel was situated near the St. Issac's Cathedral, with a golden dome that serves as my main compass whenever I lost orientation. This cathedral is a neoclassical rendered by the Byzantine Greek Orthodox church and remains the largest in Russia.
Tucked away on a canal adjacent to the main shopping and CBD district, Nevesky Prospect, stands the Church of Spilt Blood. This church was built over the ground in which the Tsar was assassinated, representing a combination of the Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. No visit to St. Petersburg is complete without seeing this church.
Locals and tourists flock to this area, buying padlocks to mark their presence on the railings at the Griboedov Canal. Newly wed Russian couples are spoilt for choice in this city where landscapes and architectures offer endless photo opportunities.
And finally, the Palace Square is the central city square of St. Petersburg where white-and-azure Winter Palaces are dedicated to the Tsars. In the middle, a symbolic monument represents the victory of the Russian empire over Napoleon. This square has been used many times for concerts, namely Andrea Bocelli.
The Hermitage, a world-famous museum, holds many Renaissance paintings and Russian fine art. You will easily need a whole day to explore this museum and I had to leave this opportunity for another day.
Russians in general are very Eastern European in their culture, i.e there's not alot of smiles and openness like the Western or Southern Europeans or the Americans. I got the impression that the Soviet communist rule still runs deep, even despite the booming economic prosperity particularly in St. Petersburg where it serves a trade gateway into mainland Russia. Unfortunately, bureaucracy is one of the biggest problem, where you typically need 3 documents with the same meaning or rules/regulations that conflict with each other.
But this is definitely a country to watch... with highly-educated Russians, vast history and culture, cash-rich and deep pockets, oil-rich resource lands, it will just be a matter of time till Russia rises up the ranks with China.