We broke up our time in Moscow in order to visit St Petersburg. It wasn’t really ‘on the way’ but I had heard so many good things, we just had to visit.
We travelled on the relatively new Sapsan train, which covers the distance between Moscow & St Petersburg in 3 and a half hours. However we almost didn’t make it at all! In my infinite wisdom I had booked the 6.45am train, for which we left our Moscow hostel at 6am – big mistake. While the Metro itself didn’t take too long, transfers did, and also the fact we had failed to realise that while we were in the right place for Leningradsky station, Yaroslavsky and Kazansky were also in the same l0cation – and we had no idea which one was which!
Luckily a kind Russian lady saw the panic in our faces (as we were seriously in danger of missing it) and helped us in the right direction. We made it on the train 3 minutes before it left, extremely tired and sweaty!
The train journey flew by and we were soon in St Petersburg. Our hostel was a fairly short walk from the station so once we checked in and caught up on some sleep, we went for a wander. What I immediately liked about the city was that it was easy to orient yourself and find your way around – a lot of sights were in or around, or across the river from Nevsky Prospect, the main road running through the city, and there were plenty of cheap buses to catch.
We spent a lot of time just wandering around, seeing whatever we came across, but 2 massive highlights from this trip are:
Church of Our Saviour On Spilled Blood
We visited this quite incredible church on our second day. The style is very similar to St Basil’s in Moscow, but the detailing even more intricate. It is probably the most beautiful place of worship I’ve ever visited.
It was built in the memory of Tsar Alexander II, at the spot where he was assassinated, hence the ‘spilled blood’, and was completed a few years later. Unfortunately however it was damaged during the Russian revolution and later used as a warehouse during Soviet times. It’s only in recent years that it has been meticulously restored to its former glory.
The interior is covered with intricate, beautiful mosaics, which are absolutely stunning. We spent a good hour inside admiring all the details – it isn’t a huge church but you just can’t stop looking at it! Well worth the 250 Rouble entry fee.
I would have liked to have stayed and admired the outside more but we managed to go on a day when the sleet was rapidly turning into rain, and it was freezing!
The State Hermitage museum is one of the largest in the world and has an enormous collection. At first I was unsure if we should visit as we had been to a lot of museums already on our trip and you don’t want to get burnt out from doing one type of activity too much. In addition most places seemed to heavily recommend hiring a guide due to the size of the place, something which doesn’t really appeal to us, partly because we’re on a budget and partly because we like to stop and sit down when we want!
However after seeing the Winter Palace from the outside, we decided it must be worth a go. So we got there relatively early, put our coats in the gigantic cloakroom and got going. It wasn’t too busy since we were in low season, which was nice as I’d read it can get extremely crowded at times.
We started off at the ancient Egypt section and initially I wasn’t all that impressed. There were some nice artefacts but nothing was in English and we’ve seen plenty of similar things at the British Museum. The room also felt a bit dark and dull. When we stepped into the next section though we realised that exhibition must be a one off.
We saw room after stunning room of incredible statues, antiques and paintings. The decor of the rooms was as impressive as what was being exhibited. It was incredible – we found ourselves walking around with mouths open at some of the beauty of the building.
Anyway, what I had read was correct, it is HUGE. We saw a lot, but nowhere near all of it, and we were there for most of the day. But I was fine with that, some sections interest us more than others anyway. And we didn’t need a guide, we were fine. I’m so glad we visited though, I don’t think a trip to St Petersburg would be complete without it.
Oh, one more thing, I have to share this photo of the frozen river where we found someone ice fishing! Never seen anything like it before.
Where we Stayed
We spent 3 nights at Mozaika hostel. This was the one hostel that broke the Russian hostel mould, and wasn’t in an apartment. It was in fact in an industrial area off the main road, which didn’t look all that inviting at first but in reality the area is fine and was teeming with people most days.
The hostel itself feels like a loft apartment, with an amazing open plan common area/kitchen which I loved. There are loads of showers and toilets, and the dorms are good, although the beds could be a bit more sturdy. Staff were really helpful, and although as usual it was dead, it would be a great place to meet people in high season I reckon.