The Grand Ride to St Petersburg
Traveling to St Petersburg from Moscow was a very grand experience on the Grand Express. The train departs at 1140pm nightly from Leningradsky Station in Moscow and arrives in style the next day at 830am at Moscovsky station, St Petersburg. You would want to purchase the tickets from http://www.russianrail.com as it is an English website.
Upon arrival on the train, the butler of the train shows you to your cabin, which is plush red velvet seats with a small table and that is where you find your fruit platter. That will also be where your breakfast is served the next morning. You have a small sink in your cabin which you can brush your teeth and freshen up upon waking. The seat converts to a bed on the lower deck and the upper bed can also be easily pulled out from the wall. It was a comfortable sleep as you could lie flat and just let the white noise of the train moving lull you to sleep. Breakfast is served at 7am and you’re given a choice of omelette or sandwich and you get tea, coffee or juice with milk or yogurt. You also save a day in hotel fees and arrive fresh as a daisy for St. Petersburg. Highly recommended!
I stayed at the Best Western Central hotel which is just across the road from Moscovsky station and also the metro, which is the cheapest and easiest way to get around. It has only 4 lines so it’s much easier to navigate then Moscow’s. The metros are as beautiful and efficient. You can get a metro card (60rubles deposit and 35rubles per trip, instead of 45rubles) which makes your trip cheaper and you can get the refund of your leftover fees back when you leave St Petersburg. The metro station in St Petersburg has their signs in English, just look up so it’s really much easier to get around. The location for the hotel was really good as it is on Nevskiy Prospekt which is the Main Street like our Orchard Road in Singapore, with shopping, cafes, restaurants and shops. If you walk all the way down, you will see Church of the Lady of Kazan, the Church on Spilled Blood and the largest and oldest museum in the world, The Hermitage. However I must caution you that Best Western had very bad service.
I spent half a morning in Peterhof which can be reached by a 40 minutes hydrofoil ride near Admiralteyskaya metro station. Peterhof is a huge garden palace with lots of fountains. The grand cascade is an amazingly huge show of fountains with a lot of gold statues and it looks amazing against the blues skies. Because Peterhof is so beautiful, it is super touristy. You need to jostle to get a photo of the grand cascade. I recommend you get a ticket to Peterhof online with 1 museum attraction. Do the Grotto of the Grand Cascade museum so you get the grand cascade to yourself with only a handful of people for a while. I was hungry after all the walking so I bought a sausage roll from the food stands and it was delicious.
After Peterhof, take the hydrofoil back and walk 10 minutes to the Hermitage museum. You can buy tickets online and you can enter with the printed ticket without queuing. The museum is huge as it was a Russian palace before. There is a lot so space in the museum and also a lot of Chinese tourist. Chinese passports do not need a visa for Russia, which explains why all attractions are packed with them in St Petersburg. I spent 2 hours there. The museum closes at 6pm everyday except on Monday when it’s closed the whole day. You can take beautiful photos at the square nearby and it’s a lively huge place.
I had dinner at Market Place on Nevskiy Prospekt. Market Place is like a Mache, it has lots of different stalls that you can order and then you pay at the cashier. I had the pork with stewed vegetables, salad and the borsch soup. Wine and food was affordable and good there.
Because it was summer, it was still bright after dinner, so I visited the Church on Spilled Blood and took some pictures of the exterior. You should enter the church because it is really very beautiful inside. You can skip the long regular queues and buy the tickets from the automated machines nearer to the entrance. It accepts cash and credit card and has English instructions! Yaay! It closes at 6pm but you can also enter it after by paying more on certain days.
The next day, I went to the Peter and Paul Fortress which housed the Peter and Paul Cathedral. It was very opulent inside and you can take photos with Peter Rabbit as well outside. There are 4 other museums that you can visit while you are there. Thereafter, walk along the riverside and you can see sweeping views of St Petersburg. As it was a cloudy day, it was windy and cool for the stroll towards St Isaac’s Cathedral.
You must visit the St Isaac’s Cathedral. This Is the largest Orthodox Basilica in the world so it’s worth a visit. You can buy the tickets from the automated machines and it’s a much shorter queue near the main entrance. You will want to buy the combination ticket to head up to the colonnade as it gives you a nice panoramic view of St Petersburg. Take a stroll in the gardens as well as it was really nice in summer.
Continue walking and you’ll find The Church of the Lady of Kazan. I didn’t go in but it is beautiful on the outside as it was large and imposing with a lot of large columns leading to it. You wouldn’t think it was a church but it looked like a very important building. The architecture of the 2 churches are very different from the ones in Moscow where you have the onions at the top. Which was why I felt St Petersburg was a really different city from Moscow, different architecture.
The highlight of my trip was the ballet performance Giselle in the Old Mariinsky Theatre. The theatre was really beautiful inside and the ballet performance was wonderful. The Russians really dress up for the theatre so you can see women in really nice dresses and shoes and the men are also quite suited up. I was probably the most under dressed person but I wasn’t refused entry. Buy tickets online and change them at the counter just before the entrance, or buy just them when you arrive.
St Petersburg was beautiful and romantic but like Giselle, seemed to hold a mysterious sad feel as you stroll along the river banks. It has a much younger vibe to it compared to Moscow as you see youths with rainbow coloured hair, piercings and tattoos playing rock music on the streets at night.
Russia was a wonderful experience for me as I learnt so much about the communist history of the country and also, the people were really helpful and nice. The beauty, efficiency and size of the metro stations was really something that’s so amazing! I would have loved to spend more days and take the real Trans Siberian railway to Siberia as well if I had more time!