Trip Report Russia

I just finished up a trip from San Diego - Reykjavik Iceland 3 nights Helsinki Finland 1 night St. Petersburg Russia 3 nights
Helsinki 2 night This trip report is on the Russia leg.

Posted by andrea
san diego, ca, USA
44 posts

I used booking.com, Rick Steve's site, tripadvisor.com, a lonely planet book, an inyourpocket travel guide and the recommendations of a friend who has travelled to SPB 2x to figure out what hotel to stay at and what to do. We picked Nevsky Inn because it is located in the historic centre and ad good reviews. We decided to spend a day in Hermitage and another day in both Catherine Palace and Peterhof. We took the 10 am Allegro train from Helsinki to SPB. tickets were booked in advance and received by email. The ride was smooth and our passports were stamped a fe times by both Finland and Russia customs.

Posted by andrea
san diego, ca, USA
44 posts

The entrance is this uninviting maroon colored thick steel door that you have to yank to get in and kick to get out. Entry is by thumb size key only. It looks a little like those round batteries that come in watches or something. The hallway smells like cement and you have to cLimb 4 slights of stairs to reach the door that says b&b (the name of our hotel is Nevsky inn). That door is tall and foreboding as well and on the inside is padded with leather and a curious peep hole.  I describe these doors only because they seem like a back entrance. But they're not. They are the only means of entering and exiting. The receptionist met us at the door, took us directly to our room. There are only 6 or 7 rooms and one floor. There is a kitchen where breakfast is served. I had fried egg, toast, butter, and cereal every morning. Our room and bathroom had plenty of space. I would definitely stay here again.

Posted by andrea
san diego, ca, USA
44 posts

Day 2 Lots of Walking We purchased our Hermitage tickets online a month in advance of our trip. The tickets arrived in our junk mail and we printed them out ahead of time. Our hotel is an enviable 5 min Walk to Hermitage. Inside we were directed to the info booth and ticket booth to get actual tickets.  We had downloaded the Hermitage app on our iPhones but still picked up a map for safe measure. I wanted to go immediately to the third floor for Byzantine art. The first stair case we found was closed and the only elevator we tried did not go to that floor. The Byzantine art rooms turned out to be closed - though this was not mentioned on the app or map. There was one room open in the 100s that had a collection of the finest examples of Byzantine work, no photos were allowed. I feel like we explored every room that was open in the main building. We were there for hours and there were quite a few rooms closed/empty for renovation/restoration. The Russian interiors were breathtaking. We ate lunch at the cafe inside- it is cash only. There are multiple small gift shops throughout the museum. I picked up a few magnets for 200 RUB. That night we ate at Telop - an intimate just like home restaurant located on Bolshaya Morskaya. We did not have a reservation and were seated outdoors. The food was really delicious and the service impeccable. I had a pear salad, San pellegrino, Napoleon cake and borscht. Our food came out quickly despite the inside seating being packed. It poured on our way back to the hotel. The hotel was close, in walking distance. We were soaked and I only brought one jacket and one pair of shoes... And they weren't rain boots.

Posted by andrea
san diego, ca, USA
44 posts

Day 3 Petersburg There are many ways to get to Catherine Palace and Peterhof from the city. Public Bus, minibus, hydrofoil, private large group tour. After exchanging emails with Alla Tours, White Nights, Davranov, etc. in March, I made a reservation with Palladium Travel Agency. I emailed directly with the manager Alexei. He answered every question without hesitation and willingly accommodated every request. We were picked up promptly at 9 am at our hotel by our tour guide, Sergei Akopov, PhD. He is well travelled, sharp, published and handsome Associate Professor Petersburger who lectures around the world. It was the first time he worked with our driver. We stopped first at Catherines Palace and cut the large tour groups. Large being ~20+. There were almost no groups our size (3 including guide). I took photos in nearly every room allowed. I was a huge fan of Baroque architecture in high school, so the gold leaf, silk walls, amber room, every exquisite detail was a feast for the senses for me. There are additions to the palace, classicism which was a love of mine since I visited The White House in 5th grade. Sergei covered a lot of ground and history in an easy going fashion. Hearing the stories of Catherine overthrowing her husband, exchanging letters with Voltaire, and hosting/debating with Diderot etc brought the palace to life He also spontaneously selected a restaurant for us mid way to Peterhof, so that we could avoid the crowds at the palace cafes. We sat indoor with a view of the prime ministers home and shared half a roast chicken, with Greek salad, black bread and San pellegrino for RUB. Very delicious! * note: a lunch stop was a special request arranged in advance. Sergei simply selected a place that wasn't at the palaces to save us time.

Posted by andrea
san diego, ca, USA
44 posts

At Peterhof we stopped first at a newly opened museum, which housed the private collection of the Benois family. No photos were allowed indoors. There was a keeper in every room and Sergei translated as much as he could. It was his first time seeing the collection but he still remained an expert and pointed out a number of famous pieces. Peterhof was impressive. It was not at all crowded when we went, as Sergei arranged for us to go in between 2 large groups. We had simply to keep a room or two ahead of the Italian group behind us to have the rooms to ourselves for a few moments. We took no photos so the tour went by quickly. It was a blue sky day so we spent a majority of our time in the gardens. There are over 100 fountains, some grand and in gold leaf, others a trick fountain where a keeper manually sprays kids who believe they've triggered the fountain by stepping on the wrong rock. I lost part of the cover to my camera. As soon as I notified Sergei, we retraced our steps back to the palace and spoke with the guards. A camera case was found back in the lower gardens by the fountain of Eve but it wasn't mine. Sergei was completely thoughtful and understanding. When he recommended that we check our cameras for photos of me with the camera/camera case, we only found 2: 1 with me completely covering the camera and 1 with me striking an embarrassing but playful pose. As I arranged in my emails with the manager Alexei, we took the hydrofoil with Sergei back to Petersburg and were dropped off at the Winter Palace. The tour was 12900 RUB. Alexei also took care of our taxi for an additional 1400 each way.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

I hate to tell you this, but you missed the most worthwhile museum in St. Petersburg (my apologies if you actually did visit it, but didn't include it in your report). Yes, the Hermitage is an amazing building, and it hosts one of the best collections of ancient art and Old Masters in the world. As impressive as the Hermitage's trove might be, however, virtually every large city in Europe has a museum with a similar stylistic scope of artwork (although all but the Louvre are smaller). But the one thing you won't find at the Hermitage, or any similar museum outside of Russia- Russian art, depicting Russian subject matter, composed in unique Russian styles by Russian artists. This was why I loved St. Petersburg's Russian Museum. You simply won't find anything like it elsewhere in Europe. Russia seems to have kept tighter control of its native artwork than any other country. But it sounds like you had a great trip!