A few years ago as spent leaves fell fast, I lived a month in Russia with old friends. There good weather in autumn is called Women’s Summer (somewhat like the Indian Summer of North America). And we made good use of warm days traveling nine of eleven time zones that made up this immense country (the zones now have been reduced to ten). The undeniable highlight of the trip was the sparkling city named after Peter the Great! The majority of Russians and anyone familiar with the city just call it Peter, meaning St. Petersburg, Russia.
St. Petersburg was founded on May 16, 1703, when the foundation of the Peter and Paul Fortress was laid. And while you visit glorious Peter you’ll not want to miss the history, architecture and museums. Those who appreciate Russian Arts know that this is the city of Pushkin and Dostoevsky. Many composers/musicians have been residents; including the celebrated Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Rimsky-Korsakov amongst others. The celebrated ballerina Anna Pavlova was born here.
The city’s main boulevard is the forever trendy Nevsky Prospekt, which is 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) long. For many residents of Peter, a stroll along this central thoroughfare is bit of a ritual and a prime opportunity to socialize. Also, the extraordinary Hermitage is one of the world’s largest museums, housing more than 3 million works of art featuring the likes of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Matisse and Vincent van Gogh. Paying a visit is a must for anyone who comes to Peter. Fortunately through a tourist office we found Sergei, guide cum former KGB operative. I playfully say this because we stealthily zipped into sites past serpentine lines with a simple greeting to doormen. Being his insouciant self, he apprised us that there was much too much to see between the Hermitage and the majestic Winter Palace, former residence of the tsars. Therefore we had two options, to return every day for five days to cover it all or attend to the highlights in one ambitious day. We chose the latter.
While swooping through a collection that was mind bogglingly first-rate, I stood up close admiring a Raphael painting nose to the brush strokes, so to speak, and asked Sergei about security. He shared that everything had changed since June of 1985, while hanging in the Hermitage Museum, Rembrandt’s Danaë was viscously attacked by an unnamed ‘madman’ who threw sulfuric acid on the painting and then slashed it with a blade. We gazed uncomfortably at the still obvious acid stains remaining on the wooden floor. He assured us the painting has been restored and that heightened security is now in place at the doors before you enter, all to protect the art and art lovers in a non-obtrusive way.
Oh, Peter! Peter! So much to do! And you too will be challenged! If you want to make good use of your time, you must keep up the pace! Travel by boat on the canals, Peter is nicknamed the “Venice of the North.” A day trip to the stunning Peterhof Palace and the Grand Cascade is relaxing and rewarding. Visit the emblematic Bronze Horseman Statue, a tribute to Peter the Great. Other sites not to be missed include the Russian Museum and the giant St. Isaac’s Cathedral (101.5 meters - 333 feet in height), the Summer Gardens and the Peter and Paul Fortress which is the burial place of Russian emperors. Then there’s the ballet and classical music concerts in unforgettably lavish venues. No matter if you have 3, 5 or even 12 days, they’ll all be chock-full!
A whirlwind week concluded with a "jacket and tie" Champagnsky Sunday Brunch highlighting dishes like smoked salmon, blinis, caviar and a full array of anything you can imagine along with frozen “Russian Standard” Vodka (Platinum Label). Sunday Brunch is truly an all-out scrumptious event in Peter.
Looking back on it all, Sergei was too right in that there’s much too much to see and do. Honestly, seven days could never be enough to know the city which surely justifies all plans to return and make Peter a lifelong friend.
All Accordin' - Travel, Culture, Food & Wine!
*Images courtesy "Just Russia" & Wikipedia.