I look at these relics from the past and wonder what they’ve been witness to over the years: from horses and buggies, to buses and cars. From trilbies and fedoras, to baseball caps and beanies. They’ve survived decades of sun, wind, rain, storms, and even floods. I love how the typefaces evoke different eras in time, a reminder that there’s beauty to be found in the ephemeral and impermanent.
The remains of a church inside the fortress
The remains of a church inside the fortress
The Shlisselburg fortress in Russia is one of these weathered relics from the past. The first fortification was built in 1299 and the times of Imperial Russia, the fortress was used as a notorious political prison. Ivan VI of Russia was murdered in the fortress in 1764, and Lenin’s brother, Aleksandr Ulyanov, was hanged there too. But todat this fortress is in ruins.
It is true that Nature is notoriously inconstant and often comes to mind when I hear the word transformation. The transformation of Nature through the seasons in Russia is marked quite drastically and each has its own magic.
Pavlovsk is an 18th century park and palace ensemble located 30 kilometers south from St. Petersburg. Catherine the Great gifted the estate to Paul 1 in 1777. It is one of the largest landscaped parks not only in Russia, but also in Europe.
We took the train out to the park early in the morning and spent a couple of hours walking around there and exploring its big expanse.
The most interesting sections of the park are along the banks of the SlavyankaRiver.
We headed to the east first; the river runs past a number of interesting monuments, including Pavel’s Mausoleum, built by Thomas de Thomon on the orders of Maria Feorovna. Also commissioned by the Tsaritsa, the Monument to My Parents is a charming pavilion in honour of her mother and father, the Duke and Duchess of Württemberg. Further south we found the Rose Pavilion; it is a delightful venue for classical music concerts in the summer.
We then headed towards the Palace. It stands almost on the edge of the park, although a small section across the main road contains a stretch of the Slavyanka, with decorations including Cameron’s simple but striking Obelisk and the faintly ridiculous, gothic Marienthal Fortress, another testament to Pavel’s fanatic militarism.
The Great Palace at Pavlovsk is painted in the deep yellow and white colour a scheme typical of St. Petersburg neo-classicism. There is a courtyard with a statue of Pavel directly in front of the squat central block.
Right next to the Palace is the Private Garden filled with beds of brightly coloured flowers which are in sharp contrast to the rest of the park.
From the terrace of the GreatPalace, a fine view north reveals the elegant ruins of Cameron’s Apollo Column, several delightful stone bridges across the river, and the circular Temple of Friendship.
After a couple of hours the mosquitoes chased us out of the forest and our feet were too tired to walk anymore.
That night we attended the 1pm opening of the bridges over the water allowing ships to pass through, it was a bit crowded but beautiful.
We took the day train back to Moscow, enjoying the landscape and arriving back relaxed and happy.
Sometimes you have to go off the beaten track to find small treasures you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Shlisselburg Fortress was one of these small gems we discovered. It is a town in Leningrad Oblast, situated at the head of the Neva River on Lake Ladoga, 35 kilometers east of St. Petersburg.
Little fishing boats moored just off the shore
Love the brightly coloured houses dotted around the small town
Walking through the small seaside town
Standing on the dock trying to figure out how to get to the Fortress
We took the suburban train out to Petrokrepost station. When we got off the train it looked like a little deserted town and we really thought that we might have gotten off at the wrong place. We walked around anyway just too have a look, we found the ocean and walked out along the dock. We could see the castle across the river on a small island but no way of actually getting there. Standing on the dock trying to work out where to from there we saw a small speed boat approaching. It seemed that they were ferrying people over to the castle. There was a guy and his eagle with us in the boat and a bunch of local Russians, no other tourists.
Inside the Shlisselburg fortress
Me sitting inside the walls of the Shlisselburg fortress
The first fortification was built in 1299. It guarded the northern approaches to Novgorod and access to the Baltic Sea. The Shlisselburg fortress is situated on Orekhovets Island, its name refers to nuts in Swedish, Finnish and Russian. During the times of Imperial Russia, the fortress was used as a notorious political prison. Ivan VI of Russia was murdered in the fortress in 1764, and Lenin’s brother, Aleksandr Ulyanov, was hanged there too.
The remains of a church inside the fortress were transformed into a memorial to the fortress’s defenders.
The memorial to the fortress’s defenders.
The fortress is a little more than ruins today. Out of ten towers, only six remain standing.The remains of a church inside the fortress were transformed into a memorial to the fortress’s defenders.
The remains of a church inside the fortress
The remains of a church inside the fortress
We had a wonderful day walking around and exploring the ruins.
We had lunch back in the town sitting on the dock before taking the last train back to St Petersburg.
The Dostoevsky-inspired IDIOT restaurant
Sitting in a cosy corner of the restaurant
That evening we went to IDIOT for dinner!! On my winters visit to Saint Petersburg we had dinner here for my birthday and I just had to go back.
The Dostoevsky-inspired Idiot restaurant is a cult favourite amongst 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!! Love coming here.
We got up a bit later than planned but after a lovely cup of coffee headed out to get the speedboat to Peterhof. We boarded the boat just behind the Hermitage and it was a quick boat ride to get to Peterhof, a lot less smelly than the local busses.
The Peterhof Palace is a series of palaces and gardens laid out under the direction of Peter the Great.
As we walked in we were greeted by fountains and we looked straight out onto the palace with all its golden fountains, it was stunning!!!
There was a Grand Cascade right in front of the palace. The fountains of the Grand Cascade are all gold and the biggest one depicts the moment when Samson tears open the jaws of a lion, representing Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War, and is doubly symbolic. The lion is an element of the Swedish coat of arms, and one of the great victories of the war was won on St Samson’s Day. From the lion’s mouth shoots a 20-meter-high vertical jet of water, the highest in all of Peterhof.
Perhaps the greatest technological achievement of Peterhof is that all of the fountains operate without the use of pumps. Water is supplied from natural springs and collects in reservoirs in the Upper Gardens. The elevation difference creates the pressure that drives most of the fountains of the Lower Gardens including the Grand Cascade. The Samson Fountain is supplied by a special aqueduct, over four km in length, drawing water and pressure from a high-elevation source.
We spent nearly 3 hours just walking around the gardens and looking at all the statues and fountains.
The many fountains located here exhibit an unusual degree of creativity.
Several fountains are designed with the specific purpose of soaking visitors. Two take the form of gangly trees rigged with jets that activate when someone approaches. Another, disguised as an umbrella with a circular bench set around the stem, drops a curtain of water from its rim when someone enters to take a seat. Needless to say we were sprayed a couple of times; luckily it was a lovely hot summer’s day so quite refreshing.
We had dinner at a lovely Greek Tavern in town when we got back then went back to the hostel to rest our tired feet!
We had a good nights rest, although it didn’t get dark. The sun sets around 1am and rises again at 2am. After applying a couple of plasters to our already blistered feet we hit the road to Peter and Paul Fortress for the day.
On our way to the fortress we came across a guy with a little bear cub! We got to touch and pet the baby bear named Lubaba. It was so cute and I actually got to touch a real bear cub!!!
The Fortress dates from the founding of St Petersburg in 1703. From around 1720, the fort served as a base for the city garrison and also as a prison for high ranking or political prisoners.
It was weekend so the place was teeming with people and tourist groups- we couldn’t even enter the Cathedral as it was too crowded with huge tourist groups. The Cathedral is the burial place of all Russian Tsars from Peter I to Alexander III, with the exception of Peter II.
So we just walked around the Fortress, we got to walk on the wall surrounding it and back along the beach that was covered in people sun bathing.
We decided to spoil ourselves with a lovely dinner at a special place each evening so during the day we settled for hot-dogs as our lunch. All over the city there are hot-dog carts-“Stardogs” and the hot-dogs are quite filling and cheap.
We headed back up Nevskiy Prospect and found a fabulous steak house named Liverpool!! The atmosphere inside was great and they had the best chocolate pudding. Warm chocolate cake with melted chocolate inside!!
We booked a week away in St Petersburg to go and take advantage of the White Nights!!
My friend Judith and I left Moscow on the Night train for St Petersburg at 2am. We had a sleeper coach in a compartment with 2 other people. The trip was lovely and over very soon, when we woke up we were already in St Petersburg. Finding our way from the train station into the city was quite easy; you get onto the underground right there.
We were staying at the Cuba Hostel; it is right in the middle of the city at Nevskiy Prospect and right behind the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.
The hostel is very cheap, central and it is lovely!! It has a small living room area where you can sit and read and FREE coffee all day long!!
After checking in we went for a walk around town, had lunch and then went on a river cruise through the city. It was fabulous seeing the whole city and just relaxing and taking in some of the sights from the water.
We walked down Nevskiy Prospect down to the Hermitage and across the bridge on to VasilevskiyIsland. Two of the most famous St Petersburg bridges, PalaceBridge and BlagoveshchenskyBridge, connect it with the mainland to the south here.
We stopped a while at the red coastal columns here in front of the Naval museum. Our exploring then took us along the river up to Blagoveshchenskiy Bridge (built in 1850) past Menshikov Palace (It was the first stone building in the city.
We visited St Andrews Cathedral on our walk. The Cathedral was commissioned at the time of Peter the Great as the chapter church of Russia’s first chivalric order, that of Saint Andrew. We ended our day having a great dinner at Russian Kitsch before walking back.
The restaurant Kitsch is all it says it is, the interior is decorated in Russian Kitsch and actually makes it very lively and homely inside. Even the menus are covered in communist pictures and pictures of Lenin. The food was excellent, even tried the St Petersburg special desert named Rum Bubba, vanilla cake soaked in rum, and was good.
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 Cathedralbefore 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!!!