St. Petersburg Touring, Part 2 (Russia 2014 Trip Report)

This entry is part 20 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

The second full day of our private tour was just as busy as our first!

Our started our day by taking us to a local bakery-type place called Stolle. They sold mostly savory type pies. It was a good light breakfast to start the day. We also walked around the area and took in the sights of St. Petersburg’s famed canals.

Canals in St. Petersburg

Stolle bakery in St. Petersburg Russia Canals in St. Petersburg Russia

By the way, can you tell there is some slight sunlight shining on the buildings? Well, it was the first sunshine we had seen since leaving Sochi a week earlier. Within a few hours, it was overcast again!

Canals in St. Petersburg Ken and I on canal bridge in St. Petersburg Russia

Our guide called one location the “Seven Bridges” lookout point. Standing at one particular point, you can see seven canal bridges.

009-storyboard

 

St. Nicholas Cathedral in St. Petersburg

After checking out the canals, we went to St. Nicholas Cathedral (also pictured with the golden tower in the photograph above.) Photography was not permitted inside the cathedral, so we just snapped a few photos of the outside and its grounds. But the inside was very ornate!

St. Nicholas Cathedral in St. Petersburg Russia St. Nicholas Cathedral in St. Petersburg Russia

 

Along Nevsky Prospect

Following St. Nicholas Cathedral, we walked along the main St. Petersburg thoroughfare called Nevsky Prospect. Along Nevsky Prospect we stopped here, the Kazan Cathedral. (Again, photographs were not permitted inside)

Kazan Cathedral Kazan Cathedral Kazan Cathedral Kazan Cathedral

Nevsky Prospect was lined with ornate buildings and spectacular views of canals and cathedrals.

Along Nevsky Prospect Along Nevsky Prospect Along Nevsky Prospect Along Nevsky Prospect

And of course, we spotted American restaurants like Carl’s Jr. along some side streets.

Side streets from Nevsky Prospect

It’s worth noting that while walking along Nevsky Prospect, our guide told us to hold our cameras tighter and to be aware of our surroundings. I’m guessing it might be an area of higher pickpocketing activity. However, it certainly didn’t seem like a shady area or anything.

We stopped by a cafe/chocolaterie type place called Eliseyev Emporium for some desserts and hot chocolate.

Food cases inside Eliseyev Emporium Beautiful food displays in Eliseyev Emporium Inside Eliseyev Emporium Chocolate dessert Creamy hot chocolate

The cafe also had a very elaborate window display.

Window display at Eliseyev Emporium

We continued our walk along St. Petersburg streets, on our way to the famous Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.

We walked past the Russian State Museum:

Outside the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg Outside the Russian State Museum Outside the Russian State Museum

And I just loved how colorful things were along St. Petersburg streets.

Walking along streets in St. Petersburg Walking along streets in St. Petersburg Walking along streets in St. Petersburg

Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

When we arrived at the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, we were blown away by how beautiful it was. In Moscow, St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square is SO iconic. It’s recognizeable worldwide. But to be honest, it was plain in comparison to Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.

Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

By the way, that’s quite the mouthful. So I’m just going to refer to it as “the church” in this section.

Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood along the canal Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood along the canal

Inside, it was even more amazing. But first, a funny sign at the entrance to the church:

No chewing gum or ice cream | sign outside church of our savior on spilled blood

So everything other than chewing gum and ice cream are okay?

The inside was simply indescribably beautiful. And, it was one of the few churches we visited in Russia that permitted photography.

Views inside Mosaic walls inside Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Views inside Mosaic walls inside Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Views inside Mosaic walls inside Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Views inside Mosaic walls inside Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

The walls were covered with mosaic art.

Don’t know what I mean? Look more closely at these images on the wall. They are comprised of tiny stones! Can you imagine how long that must have taken??

Mosaic walls inside Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Mosaic walls inside Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Mosaic walls inside Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood was built on the site of what is known as the first terrorist attack in history. In 1881, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated when a bomb was detonated next to his carriage. The church was subsequently built on that site to commemorate him.

Inside the church, a canopy marks the precise spot of his assasination.

Canopy inside Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood Sign describing assasination of Tsar Alexander II

The Hermitage Museum

Following our stop at the church, we went to the Hermitage, which currently serves as an enormous art museum in St. Petersburg. Previously it served as the Summer Palace for russian Tsars. (The previous day we had visited Catherine Palace, which had served as the Winter Palace.)

The Hermitage has a distinct green color, even among the colorful buildings in St. Petersburg.

Outside the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia Outside the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia Outside the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia

Inside, it definitely had a palatial look.

Stairs Inside the Hermitage Ornate walls Inside the Hermitage Inside the Hermitage Grand staircase Inside the Hermitage

And our guide, who so clearly loved art and art history, made the tour so interesting for us. She could hardly contain her excitement when walking into different rooms and explaining the art on the walls. It really made the museum experience even more amazing.

Hermitage Museum Visit in St. Petersburg Russia | Hermitage Review Hermitage Museum Visit Hermitage Museum Visit Hermitage Museum Visit

This room in particular was so amazing. It served as a ballroom when the Hermitage was a palace.

Ballroom at the Hermitage Ballroom at the Hermitage Ballroom at the Hermitage Ballroom at the Hermitage

It was difficult to capture it in a single image, but the gold leaf design on the ceiling actually mirrors the wood design on the floor in the ballroom!

Ballroom at the Hermitage Ballroom at the Hermitage

In another room, there was this very elaborate peacock clock inside the Hermitage. Once a week (and not the day we were there), the clock-keeper goes into the case and winds the clock.

Peacock clock at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg

Amazingly, there was some tour group that had paid extra to see the clock get wound, so we just stood around and watched it. It was a really fascinating process. I never thought I’d say that watching a clock get wound was fascinating!

Peacock clock at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg - Getting wound Peacock clock at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg Peacock clock at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg

There was an additional wing at the Hermitage that was under restoration that contained some impressionist and cubist pieces. So the halls they were displayed in weren’t nearly as ornate

Impressionist and Cubist pieces at the Hermitage Impressionist and Cubist pieces at the Hermitage

There was an incredible antiquities exhibit at the Hermitage that contained artifacts from the Altai mountains region. The artifacts are from cultures that lived in the 4th and 5th centuries BC! Here was an incredible chariot from that era on display.

Altai chariot on display in Hermitage

I’ll just let some remaining pictures of the Hermitage do the talking here:

Art inside the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia Art inside the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia Art inside the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia Art inside the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

After the Hermitage (we spent like FOUR HOURS in there, and probably could’ve spent more time if our tour wasn’t wrapping up. Oh, and if our legs weren’t killing us from standing all day).

We were starving, and couldn’t tolerate having to decipher any Russian menus, so embarrasedly, we went to a Pizza Hut that was nearby. Don’t judge! We had Russian food as a late dinner later that evening, including red caviar:

Russian red caviar

Ken also was coming down with a pretty nasty cold. Luckily we only had one day left in our trip! We found a pharmacy (and a super helpful pharmacist!) and Ken got some good cold meds and sore throat sprays. It worked “much better than the meds you buy over the counter in the US,” he said.

At dinner that night, our waitress asked us where we were from (although she mistook us for Russian! Just like everybody else in Russia seemed to do!) We told her, and that it was our last full day in Russia, and that we had been the Moscow and Sochi for the Olympics. She got SO excited when we told her we went to the Olympics.

She asked us what we thought, and we said it was so fantastic. She nearly started crying tears of joy. “Really??!!,” she said. We were like, yep! She said how happy that made her. That she couldn’t tell based on all the different news reports, she thought it might have been terrible for visitors.

For some reason, that memory just really sticks with me from our trip. Just how happy that girl was to know we enjoyed our time in Russia. It was heartwarming!


St. Petersburg, Part 3 (and final) – Russia 2014 Trip Report

This entry is part 21 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

Our last day in St. Petersburg was pretty much a half day. Our flight was leaving around 5PM, and we’re compulsive about getting to the airport early, especially in a city that we’re not familiar with. We just did things on our own that day, compared to the private tour of the previous two days.

So, this post is a random mish mash of things we did in St. Petersburg on our last day (as well as a few photos from other miscellaneous things we did in the previous days that weren’t exactly “tour” related).

We wanted to walk along the Neva River some more to take in the sights. Luckily it was a short walk from theW St. Petersburg.

Frozen Neva River in St. Petersburg Sites along the Neva River Neva River

Although the air temperature was quite cold, and the river, obviously, quite frozen, the wind was almost non-existent, so it really wasn’t as cold as it looks.

There were also plenty of cool statues along the river banks.

Boat statue along Neva river in St. Petersburg Russia Lion Statue

And, some reminders that you should not drop anchor, nor drive your car into the river. All good advice!

Don’t drop anchor sign Sign that shows don’t drive into river

Although we never went inside it, St. Nicholas’ Cathedral is also a famed church in St. Petersburg. It was actually just one block over from our hotel.

Outside of St. Nicholas Cathedral in St. Petersburg Dome’s on St. Nicholas Cathedral

I couldn’t help but notice that cars were just absolutely filthy in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Like far dirtier than our cars would get here after a snowy winter. Well, the guide explained that pollution is quite bad in Russia, so when it rains, there’s a lot of “dirt” mixed in with the rain. So cars just get covered in soot when there’s precipitation. Gross.

Soot covered cars in St. Petersburg

During a break on our tour one of the previous days, we had also asked our tour guide where we could buy some classic Russian Nesting Dolls. She pointed out a small outdoor marketplace near the Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood. Russians are hard core. Outdoor markets in February? No problem!

Outdoor market in St. Petersburg Nesting dolls at St. Petersburg Market

We couldn’t help but chuckle at the nesting dolls with NBA logos and TV show characters. I’m sure they got the proper copyright permissions to do that, right?

Nesting Dolls Nesting dolls

And God Bless America, don’t you think, that things like the NBA and NFL are so pervasive that they make Russian nesting dolls for them. Seriously, they outnumbered the nesting dolls with European soccer logos! And European tourists far outnumbered American tourists based on what we saw.

Well, our trip to St. Petersburg certainly did not start off on the right foot. But we ended up being very impressed by the city. I’d love to go back to St. Petersburg one day (in warmer weather!) to see some sites that were closed during winter. For instance, the fountains at Peterhof Palace are supposed to be spectacular, but they don’t operate in the winter. Plus, a lot of things like outdoor statues at sites like Catherine Palace were covered by steel boxes for protection. Also, I’m sure that the city has a completely different vibe when it’s not so dreary and overcast.

Perhaps a Scandinavian Cruise that includes a stop in St. Petersburg should be added to our travel bucket list!

We finished our time in St. Petersburg with some hot chocolates and an early lunch at “Coffee House.” It’s essentially Russia’s equivalent of Starbucks. We went back to the hotel, finished gathering our things, and got in a taxi for the airport. It had been a long and eventful trip, we were ready for our first leg home.


Pulkovo Business Class Lounge Review and Air Berlin from St. Petersburg to Berlin Tegel (LED-TXL)

This entry is part 22 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

Ken and I like getting to the airport early, especially in cities we’re not familiar with. We never know what traffic might be like, how long security and immigration lines are, and what the check-in process might be like. So, we left for the airport about 4 hours prior to departure, even though it was only supposed to be about a 30 minute drive to the airport.

We did actually get stuck in traffic for a while. I could tell that the taxi driver was getting nervous. He started saying something in Russian, but I couldn’t hear him. Then, in my (VERY LIMITED!) Russian, I finally heard him ask what time our flight was leaving. I was saying, “5:45” in Russian, but he looked really confused. Then I realized that I should have been saying 17:45, since they use the 24 hour clock in Russia. Whoops. So, I just quickly set an “alarm” on my phone for the time, and then showed him. He looked relieved that we weren’t running late, even with the traffic.

In English, I said with a smile, “No problem!” And, he responded, using his arm to span the traffic jam, “BEEG Proplem!” And we all laughed.

I love how even when somebody can’t speak a different language, there are certain phrases that just everybody knows. Like people who can’t speak any English still know what “No problem” and “Big Problem” mean!

Well, when we arrived at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport, we quickly learned that you’re barely allowed IN the airport more than 90 minutes prior to departure. Our taxi driver dropped us off, and we immediately had to put all our luggage through an x-ray scanner before entering the airport (something we had seen at Sochi and Moscow’s airports as well).

Then there is a pretty small “lobby” area for the airport. In the lobby, there were officials checking ID’s at podiums prior to passing through a separate set of doors, which would take you to the ticketing and check-in area. Well, we were basically “stuck” in the lobby. You could not pass through those doors until the ID-checkers said so, and it was completely unclear how long that would take.

The entire lobby area was a completely crowded zoo of people. There was a small restaurant / coffee shop place, and Ken and I managed to find a table. And we just sat there, drinking beverages until it got closer to departure time.

Once we were finally allowed into the ticketing area, we checked our luggage and received our boarding passes for our Air Berlin flight from St. Petersburg to Berlin’s Tegel Airport. Then we transited immigration, and we were finally on our way to find the Business Class lounge. (Security was not conducted until immediately prior to boarding, in the gate area).

I had low expectations for the Business Class lounge. I had read that it was pretty much a joke. Well, it was still better than a lot of U.S. domestic airline lounges (I’m looking at you US Airways lounge at DCA!)

Business Class Lounge at St. Petersburg Pulkovo Airport (International Departures)

Business Class Lounge Pulkovo Airport

The lounge was one big room, with chairs that very closely resembled (and might have actually been) Ikea Poang chairs.

Business and First class Lounge at St. Petersburg, Russia Pulkovo Airport Review of Pulkovo Business Lounge | Air Berlin

There was a food and beverage area that was self-serve, complete with coffee, bottles of beer and wine, chips and other snacks, and bottles of water. #StillBetterThanMostUSAirwaysLounges

Snacks and Beverage area at Pulkovo Lounge | St. Petersburg, Russia | Prior to departing Air Berlin LED-TXL Snacks and Beverage area at Pulkovo Business Class Lounge Snacks and Beverage area at Pulkovo Business Class Lounge Snacks and Beverage area at Pulkovo Business Class Lounge Snacks and Beverage area at Pulkovo Business Class Lounge

There was even an aquarium and a flat panel TV. Okay, I know that is not saying much, but considering how much of a zoo the airport was, and how limited seating was in the actual gate areas, Ken and I appreciated having a quiet place to sit before our flight started boarding. And of course, as a nervous flyer, I appreciated the free booze at my disposal.

Aquarium at Pulkovo Lounge TV at Pulkovo Lounge

Air Berlin Flight from St. Petersburg to Berlin (LED-TXL)

Ken and I booked business class tickets for the entire journey (St. Petersburg > Berlin > Miami > Washington, DC), but I knew that this leg would be economy class because it was a single-class aircraft. It wasn’t the end of the world, considering the flight was only 2 hours and 15 minutes.

At some point before our trip, I could’ve swore that I read online that Air Berlin just keeps an empty seat next to passengers who are booked on Business Class but riding on a single-class aircraft. Of course, as the trip approached, I could not find where I had read that, so I wasn’t sure if it would actually be the case.

When Ken and I checked in, we were booked for seats 1D and 1F, meaning that there would be an empty seat in between us. But, I really can’t be sure if we were given those seats because we were Business Class passengers. Why? That flight was literally the emptiest commercial flight I had been on in a LONG time. I’d estimate there were maybe 25–35 people on that A319 aircraft. So the fact that we had an empty seat between us wasn’t really saying much!

Legroom of bulkhead seat on Air Berlin flight Ken and I in row 1 on Air Berlin flight LED-TXL

We were provided with a sandwich and chocolate. The sandwich was actually quite good!

Air Berlin sandwich Air Berlin chocolate

The flight was uneventful, and we landed at Berlin Tegel, transited immigration and customs, and made our way to the Holiday Inn Express Tegel Airport. We ate a late dinner at the hotel and went to bed (no review of the Holiday Inn, it was a basic hotel, but a convenient location for overnight connections), and woke up early for our flight the next morning to Miami. We were ready to get home!