Art and Culture in St. Petersburg

We arrived in St. Petersburg at 8:30AM.  Oh how thrilled we were to:

1) be finished with our long train journeys for the trip, and
2) spend time in a city filled with art, culture and food! (And a lovely historic hotel with fluffy bathrobes, a hot shower and comfy bed!)

St. Petersburg is gorgeous. Still below freezing, and strangely enough felt colder than many previous cities we’d visited because of the humidity. Yes it was -30c in Mongolia, but -12c in St. Petersburg felt much colder – the damp cold would seep through your jacket into your bones.

St Petersburg is on the coast, so the humidity in the air makes it feel a lot colder than it is!

But wow, wow, wow.

Everything was coated with a dusting of white snow. The city is filled with onion-domed cathedrals and a mix of architecture. Some buildings are so European, others more Soviet. There are several canals winding through the city – everything frozen solid  – so people were walking and skiing along the canals. And loads of picturesque little bridges connecting everything. Totally gorgeous.

Me playing with my phone, totally ignoring the gorgeous cathedral at the end of the frozen canal behind me.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg. (For some reason the only closeup photo we have of this is taken from a taxi! So apologies for the photo…)
Look at the ornaments on the top of that building!

Take Me to the Nearest Market!

One of our favorite travel activities is “Picking” (Have you seen the TV show “American Pickers”? That’s what we mean by Picking. I suppose it could be called ‘antiquing’, but I think that’s making it a bit too sophisticated. Zak and I don’t go for fancy antiques – we prefer more old dusty shops, estate sales, flea markets, that kind of thing – hunting for treasures for our house!

On the St Petersburg subway en route to Udelnaya Flea Market

We took the subway out to Udelnaya Flea Market one afternoon, which is a huge market in the suburbs. There are some little sheds for vendors, but many vendors just spread their goods on sheets on the snow! There was a huge range of goods: clothes, fur coats (fur everything!!), old soviet goods, coins, knives, china, old books, militaria, toys and much more. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos in the market (well, you risk some irate vendors if you do), but I did come back with one treasure…

My Udelnaya flea market find – a vintage caviar tin. Love that color! Purchased for around 4 GBP (6 USD), I’m sure I overpaid, but I was happy with it… Now to find room in my suitcase!

The Hermitage – Possibly the Most Amazing Museum Ever

Sunday we spent the day at The Hermitage museum. Actually it’s a series of 5 separate buildings (mostly palaces!) filled with so much art in a bunch of small interconnecting rooms – you’ll definitely get lost and it’s impossible to see it all in one day. Only 10 GBP (around $12 USD) per person for admission to all the museums!

Main Hermitage Museum building. There was a Cinderella carriage outside that you could hire to take you on a scenic loop around the main square and live out your fairy tale fantasies!

The Hermitage is AMAZING.  Even if there was no art on display, the buildings themselves are museums.

Main staircase to access the galleries. Along the sides are sculptures and huge windows.
The walls and ceilings of this hall are completely painted. This reminded me of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
Ahhh gorgeousness! This is just the corner of one of the galleries. No art there … just the building, and it’s spectacular.
One of the hundreds of gallery rooms in The Hermitage.

And then there is the art collection. Completely out of this world. There were entire rooms of Matisse, Monet, Rodin, Da Vinci, etc, and that’s just in their European Art area. There were also full suits of armour and swords (which Zak loved). An Egyptian exhibit with mummies, and numerous antiquities. Hallways filled with sculptures. And on and on and on. We gave up trying to follow the map and just let ourselves wander through the interconnected rooms, halls and galleries…

Zak in one of the 3 Matisse rooms at the Hermitage museum. This was in a newer building which housed most of the more recent European art collection.
Looking out the window from one of the art galleries.
We had a brief moment in the “Throne Room” at the Hermitage where we felt like we’d stumbled back into China. We found ALL the Chinese tourists. They’re all in the throne room, posing for photos. It was pretty funny. We didn’t really see Chinese tourists anywhere else – just in huge groups in this room, and occasionally in front of other major artwork in the Hermitage. None in the streets. I think they just go back into a tour bus and off to the next museum!

It felt like we walked forever, and we only visited two of the buildings and a fraction of the exhibits. You’d really need several days to even make a start on seeing their collection (and apparently the collection on display is only a small fraction of what they have in the warehouses … incredible.)

Strolling on the Frozen Canals

We noticed locals walking along the frozen canals, so we decided to try it too! It’s a little tricky to climb down onto the canal (there are stairs, but then you kind of have to jump from the lowest landing down onto the frozen canal)

View of the frozen river from a window in The Hermitage
Zak standing on a frozen canal.

Later that evening, we saw people cross country skiing down the canals!

We spent four days in St. Petersburg at a historic hotel called The Pushka Inn, and would definitely suggest adding this city to your own travel list.  There’s a really high level of English. The city is very walkable (unlike Moscow), huge variety of food (Russian and European) and of course – The Hermitage Museum. Well worth the trip, and could easily be combined with a little jaunt to Helsinki Finland, or Tallinn Estonia, which is where we’re off to next…