Russia, oh Russia. Honestly, we were terrified to visit St. Petersburg. We have traveled to chaotic Delhi and corrupt Cambodia with less fear than our visit to the mighty empire of Russia. I’m not sure what lent more fear, the thought of some secret police listening in on a conversation or the horrific treatment of LGBTQ people in the country. Either way, Whit and I were very careful and acted like sisters… not an uncommon thing for us when traveling unfortunately.
On day one, we spent most of our time driving around town admiring the exquisite architecture and countless museums. We stopped at St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the iconic Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood. St. Isaac’s Cathedral was built over forty years starting in 1818. The magnificent dome was gilded using a method of heating up a mixture of gold and mercury so when the mercury evaporated, the gold was left over the copper. The brilliant gold was painted over in gray during WWII to avoid attracting attention from enemy planes.
The iconic Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is just as impressive as in pictures. The brilliant onion shaped domes and colorful mosaic work is representative of Russian Orthodox architecture. The church is built on the site where Alexander II was killed.
We also visited the grandiose Winter Palace, the royal residence of the Russian Tsars. It was built between 1754 and 1762 and now is part of the Hermitage Museum.
That night we had the incredible opportunity to enjoy Swan Lake performed by the St. Petersburg Ballet at the Hermitage Theater. Russian Classical Ballet is an extraordinary art that requires rigorous hours of practice for years to perfect. But as our guide mentioned to us, there is a Russian proverb that says “there is no limit to perfection.” The flawless performance accompanied a moving orchestral performance that left us speechless.
The next day we visited Peterhof Palace about 45 minutes outside of St. Petersburg. The summer palace of the royal family boasts opulent gilded décor guarded by babushkas that, per our guide, will chop off your hand if you touch anything! All jokes aside, the women take great care of the palace rooms ensuring that tourists don’t thoughtlessly wear away years of restoration with constant touching of walls and doors.
That afternoon we toured another famous palace called the Yusopov Palace after the wealthy noble family that built it. The Yuspov’s are most notorious for the assassination of Rasputin, a humble man known as a healer. He was very close to the royal family as he served as a healer for the young prince who had hemophilia. Rasputin was known to support an avoidant stance on Russia entering WWI, much to the dismay of the Yusopov family. Felix Yusopov, along with other conspirators attempted to poison him. When that failed, he shot Rasputin. When Felix went upstairs to inform the others of the death, Rasputin snuck out of the house with his blood trailing after him. After firing a second shot, he was killed. Because they forgot to tie his body down with weight, Rasputin’s body was found floating in the waterway wrapped in a curtain bearing the Yusopov family crest. Needless to say, it was a clear cut case of who murdered Rasputin and the Yusopov family was exiled.
Because of visa requirements in Russia, our time in St. Petersburg was quite structured with guided tours only. We were not allowed to roam the city on our own. Although it is an exquisite city, I was more than happy to be sailing away from Russia and on towards Estonia.