Every year I go somewhere special for my birthday and in 2011 I decided to celebrate my birthday in mystical St Petersburg for a weekend. Who wouldn’t plan a weekend get away to a place where it’s windy, snowing and -28 degrees outside!?!?
Judith (my German friend), Olga (My Belarusian flat mate), Kirsten (Judith’s Kiwi flat mate) and I embarked on this weekend trip to St Petersburg in February 2011!
We left early on Friday morning, caught a plane to St Petersburg not realizing how cold it would be over there. With all the ice and wind in St Petersburg it was freezing, it was -28 degrees!!
Some of my Russian students helped us book a cheap hostel, unfortunately the staff there only spoke Russian! We got by though seeing as my flat mate Olga spoke Russian and could translate most of what was said, but definitely staying in an English hostel next time.
We booked in, got our police registration (whenever you enter a city you have to register with the police so that they know where you
are) and went for lunch close by. The rivers were frozen solid and there were icicles hanging down from all the buildings. It was beautiful but very cold. We ended up in a small Soviet restaurant where we sat inside an old army vehicle. We had a lovely lunch but unfortunately St Petersburg doesn’t have very good central heating. It is not as warm as in Moscow so we had to keep our coats on inside the restaurant.
We went for a walk next to the frozen river where we had a snow ball fight, trudged through knee deep snow and even made some snow angels!!
We spent the evening in a small Blues Bar with a live band. It was a small band of which the members looked like a couple of retired guys but they were excellent and we had a great time!!
It was too cold to walk back that night as temperatures dropped even further so we took a taxi back to the hostel.
The next morning when we showered we had cold water!!! We started our day freezing cold and never really warmed up. This was due to our own inability to read Russian. There was actually a sign that warned that there was no hot water and that we should use the showers on the next floor. That evening Olga translated it for us and we immediately went and took a nice warm shower before heading to bed.
We started our morning with a walk in the snow and a warm coffee. We then hopped onto the city bus tour, it was -28 outside and in the bus 6 degrees We were not prepared for this cold and definitely not dressed warm enough. We experienced St Petersburg covered in snow and ice, it was wonderful!
After the bus tour we headed over to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, one of the most beautiful churches that I have ever seen! Our hands were freezing so we first took a couple of minutes standing around warming up before we could look around and appreciate the beauty of it. I don’t think I have ever been this cold in my entire life, my fingers and toes were actually burning from the cold.
Each inch of the church is covered in mosaic and is very colourful. The Church contains over 7500 square meters of mosaics—according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world.
This Church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. The Church is prominently situated along the GriboedovCanal. On March 13, 1881 (Julian date: March 1), as Tsar Alexander’s carriage passed along the embankment, a grenade thrown by an anarchist conspirator exploded. The Tsar, shaken but unhurt, got out of the carriage, but then a second conspirator took the chance to throw another bomb, killing himself and mortally wounding the Tsar. The Tsar, bleeding heavily, was taken back to the Winter Palace where he died a few hours later.
Our next stop was the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, where the choir was singing when we got there and we got to experience the last part of the church service. We drank some blessed water for good health and admired the Cathedral’s interior, with its numerous columns and an outward colonnade. The interior features numerous sculptures and icons executed by the best Russian artists of the day. A wrought iron grille, separating the cathedral from a small square behind, is sometimes cited as one of the finest ever created.
After a quick lunch we had to rush to get to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral before it closed. We forgot that everything closes early in the winter so didn’t have a lot of time to walk around. But we still stopped to make some snow angels in front of the Cathedral before going in. I would not recommend doing this because snow gets in everywhere and as soon as we entered the Cathedral it melted and we were shivering during our whole visit. Still it was worth it when we then went up on to the observation deck we could see our snow angels from above.
Climbing stairs in a cold wind was not fun, but the view of the city from the roof was breathtaking. Unfortunately the wind blows strongly up there so we couldn’t stay too long as our fingers were freezing!
Inside the church the ceiling is just magnificently painted, the dome is decorated with twelve statues of angels by Josef Hermann.
The church has huge bronze doors covered in reliefs, patterned after the celebrated doors of the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence. The interior was originally decorated with scores of paintings by Carlo Brullo and other Great Russian masters of the day. When these paintings began to deteriorate due to the cold, damp conditions inside the Cathedral, Montferrand ordered them to be painstakingly reproduced as mosaics.
It gets dark around 4pm here in the winter so by the time we left the cathedral it was dark outside and ice-cold!
For my birthday dinner we went to IDIOT.
This Dostoevsky-inspired Idiot restaurant is a cult favourite among St. Petersburg’s artsy and ex-pat community. Its four rooms are decorated with antique furniture, oil paintings and bric-a-brac. There are also chess and backgammon sets available and a small English-language bookshelf. The excellent Russian and vegetarian cuisine create a suitably Bohemian vibe. As soon as we sat down we each got free vodka shots which helped warm us up. Their cocktails are great and the food is fabulous!! I will definitely go there again.
After a lovely breakfast it was time for the Hermitage!! One of the largest and oldest art
museums of the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise nearly 3 million items. It is on the bank of the Neva River in a beautiful setting.
Unfortunately the entrance ticket for foreign tourists costs four times as much as the fee paid by Russian citizens. We spent a couple of hours walking around and didn’t even see half of the exhibits; it is definitely worth another visit.
After lunch we split up, Olga and Kirsten went to look for some statue out in the cold while Judith and I went to the Museum of the History of Religion. We had a great time there although there weren’t much information in English. We tried to translate some of the Russian descriptions and the paintings were fabulous.
That afternoon it was back to Moscow and central heating!!!