Not too long ago, I visited St. Petersburg with some other students from my group. We were on our own with no resident director to guide us (although two of the students became quasi-resident directors). On the second day, we visited Peterhof, Peter the Great’s palace in the Gulf of Finland. Initial construction of Peterhof began in 1714 and finally ended in 1723. While there are many methods of arriving to this island, we took the hydrofoil across the water, allowing us to see a waterfront view of St. Petersburg and some other boats in the gulf. Supposedly, on a clear day you can see Finland from the pier. The path from the pier to the main palace follows the Marine Canal, which allowed the tsars to sail right up to their palace.
Directly in front of the palace is the Grand Cascade and the Samson Fountain.
It’s a stunning sight, but it’s hard to get a good photo because of the large number of tourists. People crowded the slippery steps, everyone waving around their phone, professional camera, or even selfie sticks. I have seen more selfie sticks on that three day trip to St. Petersburg than all of my combined years in America. As I walked up the steps, there were two little boys climbing the banister as opposed to the actual steps with their grandmother scolding them, telling them to be careful. I even saw a few wedding parties taking photos here and there.
While one can pay extra to visit the inside of the palace and the grotto, I only had three hours to explore the entire island, so I chose to wander around the grounds that hid fountains, statues, and mini-museums. The rest of the grounds were significantly less crowded than the palace and as I walked among the perfectly manicured lawns and gardens, I could almost imagine the tsars and their family and guests wandering around the grounds, just around the corner or on the other side of the trees. Two of my favorite spots were a little house-museum and another cascade fountain. The little house-museum stood at the end of a perfectly square pond with ducks and ducklings swimming in it. Tourists relaxed on benches around the pond, with the best spots being under the trees. Despite the colder weather, the sun was still fierce. The cascade fountain was a good distance from the palace and had marble statues at regular intervals up the cascade. It was flanked by two large jets of water, at least two dozen feet into the air.
On the way back to the pier, I rested on the beach and simply watched the waves. The water was too cold and probably too unclean to swim, so people simply sunbathed on the sand or the rocks. In Moscow, I try as much as I can to blend in and not look like a tourist or a foreigner. Sometimes this works too well when people come up to ask me for directions and I have to admit that I am as lost as they are. But in St. Petersburg, I allowed myself to be a tourist and simply enjoy the sights.