Tuesday, September 24, 2013

St. Petersburg – First Impressions

We arrived in St. Petersburg at about 8:45am, and through minimal language, found a taxi driver, who was very nice, drove us in a roundabout way to our hotel and charged us almost double of what it should have cost.  Oh well.

Ricky on the Balcony
The hotel that Chris booked is lovely – small European-style (why not, we’re in Europe now!) boutique hotel at a great location on a canal (I had no idea St. Petersburg had so many canals!) and near the main drag, Nevsky Prospekt.  We had to wait a few hours before a room was ready, so we grabbed a quick bite in the downstairs café and headed out, like tourists, with maps in hand, to get a lay of the land.

We're at 60 degrees North latitude - the highest we will get on land for this trip.
 St. Petersburg shares this latitude with just a few other cities; Anchorage, Oslo. But it is the population king at 5 million people living in this inhospitable climate with just 60 days of sunshine each year. Cold temperatures and a cold, wet wind that blows and blows.

Yet, we are blown away by this city.  Because Peter the Great wanted his capital to compete with the cities of Europe, he hired European architects to design and build the city from the ground up.  As

a result, with a string of canals running throughout, St.
Another "Cathedral of the
Spilt Blood"
Petersburg looks like a cross between Paris and Venice, dotted with minareted (is that a
word?) Russian Orthodox churches.  Many road and pedestrian bridges arch gracefully over the canals, reminiscent of the ponts over the Seine.  It seems that beyond every corner we turn, there is some incredible-looking edifice that was someone’s palace or private art museum.

We returned to the hotel and checked into our room… For a relatively small amount, we decided to upgrade, to give ourselves a break after our cramped train compartment.  They didn’t have a room up one level, so they jumped to two levels for the same price.  Frankly, the room we got has probably not been totally updated (although it has a great bathroom).  However, the 3
The Mother Ship
rooms we are staying in are collectively larger than our condo in Breck.  Easily.  The main room has a very elegant dining table that seats 10, an elaborate inlaid parquet floor (Chris likes to slide across it in his slippers), grand piano, gothic Adams-family-esque couch, with chairs, where even Chris could comfortably sleep, a porcelain tea set, and a gargantuan chandelier descending from the ceiling like the mother ship at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  There is gilt molding on the doors, walls and ceiling that are reminiscent (I’m not kidding) of the Grand Staircase in the Hermitage, and we have the only balcony in the hotel - it overlooks a canal and park.  Note:  the Hermitage is the winter palace complex built by Peter the Great in the 1700s. The Grand Staircase is the one section built in the Rococco style – gold on white, very ornate – THAT’s what our room looks like.  The bedroom is much more understated in its décor – thank God.

The main alter in the Cathedral
After checking in, we ventured out again in the pursuit of food.  On the way, we visited an awesome church called Cathedral of the Spilt Blood which was built on the spot where Czar Alexander I was mortally wounded - the friggen EIGHTH attempt on his life!  Incredibly imposing structure with large multi-colored minarets and an interior that was pretty much marble on the floor and columns and mosaic of religious icons that was so detailed, it looked like painting.  Mosaics - because the tiles are heartier at the 60 degrees North climate than canvas. 

We wandered some more and found a wonderful Georgian restaurant.  Chris has a knack
Caucasian Food
for finding great, out of the way places on the fly, and this was no exception.  The folks there were very friendly to the drenched foreigners coming in out of the rain.  White table clothes, cozy atmosphere, and great food.  The Georgians make a walnut paste and stuff things with it or shape it into patties for appetizers, and then they do wonderful things with beans and cabbage and a unique blend of spices – I think one is fenugreek.  Chris had a delicious meat dish with an amazing tomato sauce (I had a taste without the meat.).  With a couple glasses of red wine, it hit the spot.  Great day.

No comments: