On St. Petersburg: The City

As part of the whirlwind portion of our eastern Baltic cruise, the Celebrity Constellation arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia. As one raised during the Cold War, visiting the Giant Bear of the North was something we never imagined.

Russia requires visitors to have a visa. However, cruise passengers need not apply for one as long as they are participating in a government-approved tour agency. Therefore, we booked the two-day St. Petersburg Royal Tour with Denrus, who provided a great two days with a delightful tour guide and driver.

Because both days were fascinating, I will give St. Petersburg two posts, with today’s post focusing on some of the non-royal aspects. Enjoy!

St. Petersburg Factoids

  • Peter the Great founded the city in 1703
  • Located on 14 islands with rivers and canals
  • Peter the Great was fond of his time in Amsterdam
  • Population: about 4.8 million
  • Also called, Petrograd and Leningrad
  • Getting a border agent to smile is not easy
  • The non-smiling faces of the older residents is a stark reminder of the past

The old, walled fortress city (Russian royals buried at the tall church)

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Old Navy ship for military enthusiasts to research
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Many Khrushchev-style apartments are in the city (Interestingly, we didn’t see many homes within the city)

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Across the river to St. Isaac’s Cathedral

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St. Isaac’s Cathedral’s huge doors
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St. Isaac’s interior

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Sts. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral in Peterhof (outside St. Petersburg)
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Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood
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Besides the longest escalator I’ve ever been on, the subway stations are like museum (To see more, checkout this 3-minute video)
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The nesting Matryoshka dolls for the American tourists
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We’ll return to St. Petersburg after tomorrow’s mid-week satire post. (Click here to join us in St. Petersburg.)

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67 thoughts on “On St. Petersburg: The City

  1. How beautiful. The architecture has been so well maintained which surprises me given what the country has been through. I didn’t know it was a city on so many islands. It’s sad to think the old people have had such a harsh life and have lived with no smiles xx

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  2. ‘Getting a border agent to smile is not easy’ you mean you tried? , hmmm, what is even harder is to get a Cuban Police Officer to smile (don’t ask how I know this).

    The Cathedral photo’s reminded me of a few art history lectures an that’s a good thing. Give’s you a thumbs up for getting the women and child into the right-hand bottom of the frame to put the doors in perspective.

    I wondered how the cruise lines handled the Russian Visa process as I have heard some wild tales from people who have done extensive traveling there.

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    • Howl,
      Yep … we tried on each pass (4 total) to get smiles because the cruise director said something about their friendliness. Of course they were probably thinking in Russian, “Stupid Americans.” I wish I would have used some Russian phrases on them.

      I don’t think the cruise lines deal with the visas. After all, without it, a passenger can’t get past the guards. The tour companies do the paperwork (and my guess is pay a fee that is much cheaper than a visa) … and cruise lines hire tour companies for the tours they offer.

      The churches are quite beautiful inside and out. Thanks for visiting and stop by again for the next installment about St. Petersburg.

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    • Debra,
      I could see what you are saying. Being that we were on a tour, we had a nice, private van … plus the places were went were well maintained. So we didn’t get to experience being on our own as it seems you did. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Rosie,
      During the Soviet era, people generally didn’t smile because they didn’t know who to trust. The older the people, the more ingrained the behavior. The older ladies monitoring the rooms in the museums commonly had a cold scowl on their face. Meanwhile, St. Petersburg is a city of contradictions. As my wife says, with the opulence of the royal family and the few that had money, no wonder the revolution. But like anything, there is always more to the story. Thanks for stopping by.

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    • Bulldog,
      The dolls are wood, and my guess is about 15 cm. They are in 2 pieces, which twist apart to separate and discover another doll on the inside … and again … and again …. and again … and again. They can be beautiful and intricate, although these were, at best, cheezy. Although I love this style of churches, the overall best architecture is yet to come. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. WOW! Can’t wait for the rest of your post and photos on St. Petersburg. Visiting St. Petersburg and Moscow, along with a performance of Swan Lake by the Bolshoi Ballet, are must-do’s for me.

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    • Tim,
      I knew you would like this one, which also would serve as to remind you of your dream trip. Meanwhile, I want to hear a symphony play the grand music of the Russian master composers! Thanks for sharing some of your bucket list!

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  4. I have yet to visit Russia. The architecture is wonderful, and the inside of that church, spectacular. LOL @ the politician, Matryoshka dolls. Imagine having George Bush in lots of different sizes! 😆

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    • Paradise,
      I imagine you’ll get there, but it is good that I now have two places I’ve been too ahead of you. 😉 Then again, taking a similar cruise would knock those off the list. Good job at closely looking at the doll shelf! Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing your travel and all the photos with us. I’d love to go there. The church may be one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen a photo of. Stunning.

    I need to beef up on my world history. Not sure where I was when that was being taught in elementary or high school, but somehow it passed me over. It’s one of my current goals, although I’ve not made much progress towards it. I did read Catherine the Great, which was fascinating. I am currently reading Follet’s Fall of Giants, which is fiction, but I hope the history is somewhat accurate.

    Who knows?

    Probably someone who knows history. That’s who would know.

    See above “I need. . .”

    I may be in an infinite do-loop here. Remember those?

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    • Christine,
      Glad you appreciated this photos. Speaking of Catherine the Great, I will have the royal part of this tour on Thursday … so I hope you return. Regarding Follet, and as you know, many writers write their fiction around history – thus research a great deal. Then again, a historian would better know what to separate as fact and fiction. Thanks for visiting and sharing!

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  6. I was in Moscow for a summer back in ’93. The subway system in St. Petersburg looks very much the same with long escalators and fascinating station designs. I wasn’t able to visit Petersburg then but your post planted a seed for the future. Thanks!

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    • Luke,
      Long escalator is an understatement … and to see people moving fast down them is another story. In other words, stay to the right! Hope you saw the video about the subway, which is like a treasure. Meanwhile, given its similarity to the one in Moscow, got to wonder if they weren’t built around the same time. Thanks for sharing Luke … and hope you get to St. Petersburg!

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  7. I’ve always heard that the Russian subway system is a work of art. I always find it so fascinating to see that stunning Imperial architecture juxtaposed with those incredibly bleak Soviet-era buildings. Thanks for sharing, Frank. Must have been an amazing trip.

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  8. Great pics, Frank. Those subways DO look a lot like Moscow’s – no doubt common designs. And thanks for that warship picture, I’m sure I can find some old fart with time on my .. er .. HIS hands to see which ship that is.
    I would imagine, especially among the older folk, that a lot of their dour appearance dates back to WW2 and the the immediate post-war period. Unlike Moscow, the German Army DID reach Leningrad, and surrounded it with the help of their Finnish allies, for three long years. Everything was in constant short supply – bodies would lay in the streets during the winter for lack of coffins, and hundreds of trucks and their crews were lost running supplies over frozen Lake Ladoga (I believe that’s the name of the lake to the Northeast). They even laid a rail line one year across the ice – and lost trains when the ice started to melt. I don’t think they ever established a definite number of dead, as a lot of people fled the city as the Germans closed in. And the Communists didn’t like to be reminded of all the decadent Imperial activities and constructs in the former and future St. Petersburg,, so Leningrad was treated as something of a “second city” – or perhaps the old “red-headed stepchild”. The survival of the city is a truly amazing story.
    Pity you couldn’t get inland – I believe there’s at least two major memorials, a military museum, and (of course) military cemeteries with incredible headstones. See the end of “K-19: The Widowmaker” for similar styles.
    And I’ll let you know what that old fart finds out about that ship! 😉

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  9. I loved St. Petersburg! So much fun to look around, and the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood was breathtaking.

    I went to see if I had taken a picture of the same mess of street signs in Tallinn that you did, and I can’t find my Baltic cruise photos on my laptop. I suspect I forgot to transfer them over from the old computer that died. Before I panic, I have to check a zip drive. Hopefully I made a back up. Otherwise that would be just plain stupid of me…

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  10. It just popped into my head – I bet that’s the cruiser “Aurora”. She served during the Russo-Japanese War (and survived – quite a feat, considering the drubbing the Japanese gave the Russian Navy) and something happened on her that was part of the beginning of the “October Revolution” – the start of Communist takeover. I’m sure there’s plenty on Wiki about the incident.
    (See, I TOLD you some old fart would figure out what that ship was – and I did! 😀 )

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  11. Heard that St. Petersburg is a beautiful city; full of history and beauty. Never been, but would love to go one day. Not that high on my bucket list – but on! Thanks for bring me there and I’m waiting for the next capture. Great shots. I don’t find anyone in Baltic countries being smiley. Same in Prague and Poland.

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    • Kathy,
      Personally, I favor the cathedrals, then I only saw 2 subway stations. Because you enjoyed the subway, make sure you watch the video link (if you didn’t) because it is worth it! Thanks for sharing your favs!

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    • Cayman,
      Thanks for the kind words. I tried not to have many photos and keep my words as short as possible. Glad you appreciated my approach … and more to come on Thursday. Thanks for stopping by.

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    • Renee,
      Great point about the nesting dolls … and some are awesome, but these are relatively inexpensive. Nonetheless, the trip was wonderful, so I hope you return on Thursday for more St. Petersburg. Thanks for commenting.

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    • Zannyro,
      The architecture of the churches there impresses me. Meanwhile, the palaces as Hermitage are amazing. Hope you watched the video about the subway, which is awesome! On the other hand, many apartment buildings are dull to the max. Thanks for stopping by.

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  12. Finally getting around to this. Really nice post. Nice photos also. I love the first one of the old walled city with it’s golden towers spiking up into the overcast sky. Really shines. I also love the light you captured on the “Kruschev-style” apartment and of course St. Isaacs must’ve been wonderful. I am humored by the last two shots of all the dolls. That sort of mass presentation reminds me of the one of Andreas Gursky’s images – only on a micro scale. 🙂

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    • Mobius,
      All lighting is a matter of luck for me. 😉 Nonetheless, I appreciate you pointing out the luck. 🙂 The cheezy dolls were a hoot! My fav is the St. Peter and Paul church framed by the trees. Meanwhile, more St. Petersburg will go up within the soon (this evening).

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  13. The churches are incredibly beautiful, Frank. All of your photos are really wonderful. I can easily imagine this to have been a very special trip. I think for any of us of a certain age during the Cold War this region is incredibly fascinating! It must be a land of stark contrasts!

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    • Debra,
      In the pic of the old city/walled-fortress, the royal families are buried in the church with the tall, thin steeple. Meanwhile, one guy on our tour kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m in Russia.” Thanks for stopping by.

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    • John,
      St.P was a wow city. On the other hand, because we were on a tour, we didn’t get to experience the city on our own. FYI: Russia requires a visa … but when cruising, you can get around it. … but I didn’t have a Russian beer! Thanks for visiting.

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