The Journey. The trip to St. Petersburg was my first experience with an overnight train. We were placed in compartments of 4 people. For the most part, we were placed with members from our study abroad program, but one compartment had a pair of Russians, whom we visited and became acquainted with to practice some niceties in Russian. Each compartment came equipped with a little goodie bag of Russian snacks such as pastries and Chudo, the “miracle yogurt”. We initially struggled with stowing our bags below the beds because the bed became locked in the upward position, but a kind gentleman in the compartment next door was able to explain to us what needed to be done. The trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg was approximately 9 hours, so we had plenty of time to sleep and stare out the windows at the sights (as the “white nights” allowed us to see the surrounding countryside even very late at night the more we neared St. Petersburg).
First Day. Upon arriving, we hit the ground running with a bus tour of the city. The tour took us through a rapid-fire introduction to the most famous attractions, from the Winter Palace to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, both of which are pictured below. The architecture of St. Petersburg has a significantly more European influence, as Peter the Great loved Europe and brought back many traditions and customs from his travels to the West.
Second Day. After a restful night in our hostel, the group was ready to take on the Hermitage Museum located in the Winter Palace. This is one of the largest collections of art and cultural history in the world and was begun by Katherine the Great’s private collection and has expanded significantly, with a new Modern Art building that we unfortunately did not have time to visit. The pieces range from Imperial Russian to Ancient Egyptian (there was even a mummy!). Beyond that, we explored the city and were able to take a closer look at some of the monuments highlighted by the previous day’s tour. A major difference between Moscow and St. Petersburg is the degree to which the Metro is utilized. As I’ve iterated in a prior post, the Moscow Metro is a thing of beauty. Not only are the stations immaculate, it is perfectly planned to streamline commuting. It is impossible to imagine moving around Moscow without the assistance of the Metro. St. Petersburg, on the other hand, has a rather cumbersome Metro. There are fewer stations, thus it takes longer to find a Metro entrance and it is less convenient to take to your destination because the sights are rarely near the stations. Because St. Petersburg was built on swampland, their metro is very deep underground – as the builders had to take the wet ground into account. Thus, the resulting trip up the escalator from the train to the outside world seems endless.
Third Day. On our final day in Europe’s 3rd largest city, we decided to check out Kunstkamera. Peter the Great established this museum in 1727 and it is the oldest anthropological museum in Russia. While most levels contain artifacts typical of a museum, there is one unique chamber. This is the chamber that houses Peter the Great’s collection of “monsters”. He was fascinated by anomalies in the human form and acquired a store of human children with various defects. These specimens were preserved in ethanol and placed on display in the original museum with the goal of debunking the view that malformations resulted from “the evil eye” or sorcery. Below, is a display case with part of the Siamese Twin collection. After the Museum, we climbed the 262 steps of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the observation tower, where one could see a 360º view of St. Petersburg. Although climbing the spiral stairs was dizzying (and a little terrifying due to the lack of handrails), the view (shown below) was definitely worthwhile as a farewell to the city before the overnight train back home.