Russia Day 4 – The Summer Palace of Peterhof

I wasn’t sure if I was going for my normal Tuesday run to start with as my feet had been tired the previous day. I had considered running to the Smolny Cathedral and back with my backpack and camera, however the morning was a tight schedule and I was only able to fit in a 5km run.

Our pick-up was at 09:30, but we had to make sure our suitcases were reasonably ready for the train journey and subsequent flight. Despite being asked to make sure we were on time, the driver was late. We did however still make it to the hydrofoil in time as it turned out we were boarding this on the “Two Lions” pier behind the Admiralty building which would only have been a short walk from the hotel anyway.

Once aboard the hydrofoil we had to take seats and couldn’t see out the window that well. As it happened though there wasn’t that much to see on the 45 minute ride to Peterhof so it didn’t make much difference. Upon arrival we then had to queue for tickets for the palace, though one British tourist had an argument with our guide for pushing in – despite him having pushed in front of us instead, and the fact that he was in the queue for guides not individuals.

The palace at Peterhof was commissioned by Peter the Great as a strategic point. It overlooked the island he had captured and the Gulf of Finland – the island being the perfect location for commercial vessels to use for a dock.

At exactly 11:00, as we were walking along the canal to the palace some music started as the fountains switched on and sent jets of water high into the air. Our guide didn’t let us stop however, she insisted we must continue on and queue for entrance into the palace building. To reach the entrance there were several layers of terraces and fountains which I really wanted to photograph, but instead we had to queue whilst our guide went off to get another set of tickets for the palace.

Whilst waiting I sat down on the step but was asked to stand – it seems they don’t like people doing that there. They also don’t allow photography indoors, and require all tourists to wear “slipper” overshoes to protect the flooring. Our guide told us that during the second World War that the building was destroyed by the Nazis and that it has been in the process of restoration for some time. This means that the majority of what we were walking around was in fact no more than 50 years old dependent upon what year the restoration started. Apparently though some samples of the walls survived which meant that they were able to recreate them with some accuracy, but a lot of the building was done so using various styles that were known to be around at the time and were known to be used at various points in time in the palace also.

Most of the rooms were very similar to those in the Catherine Palace, but the exception was the Chinese rooms where they had black lacquered panels that were highly decorative. Although these were the most interesting of the rooms they were the ones we spent the least time in as to control humidity they have to limit people’s time in them and usher you straight through.

Once we’d completed the tour of the building we quickly took some pictures of the fountains in front of the palace before being led at pace around the rest of the gardens on one side of the palace. We saw a number of “trick” fountains where someone would operate them as tourists went passed so they’d get wet, and various other fountains too.

To get back to Saint Petersburg we went by car, and they agreed to drop us off at the Artillery museum. By 14:30 we were back in the city and seated in a restaurant we’d been shown to near the museum so we could have lunch. The service here was slow though – after 10 minutes we’d been given a menu but by this time some of the other people eating there had started to smoke so we moved a couple of tables along to be out of their way.

Another 10 minutes passed and they finally took our order and another group had started to smoke near us so we moved once more after they’d taken the order. Surprisingly it was then a further 10 minutes until they’d brought the drinks out to us. By the time we’d had our “quick” lunch and paid over an hour had passed. It didn’t really matter though as we’d got a lot of time between then and needing to be on the train.

Fortunately it wasn’t far to the Artillery museum, but it turned out they were closed on Mondays and Tuesdays – something our guide hadn’t warned us of when we’d said about it! Unsure what to do next we decided that we’d confirm the location of the Faberge museum so walked from there, across two bridges and down Nevsky Prospekt to where we saw a sign the previous day. However it turned out that this wasn’t the museum, and was just an expensive shop! Fortunately along this road I got Wi-Fi access from a place we’d been to previously and was able to confirm it as being about 30 minutes away on foot.

To pass some more of the afternoon we walked to the Kazan Cathedral that we’d passed the day before. This time we went inside, which it was free to do so, but felt that we shouldn’t really take photographs at the time as there was a service taking place. Instead we went over the road and along the canal to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood that has colourful spires. To go in this cost 250 roubles, and I think it was worth it – almost every inch of the wall was covered in colourful mosaic.

The church gets it’s name due to it being built at the location where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded by an anarchist’s bomb. It was constructed by Alexander III as a memorial to his father, and was deliberately designed to resemble Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. When the Soviet government came into power the church interior was damaged, and was not reopened as a museum until 1997 after 27 years of restoration work.

We continued along Nevsky Prospekt and soon found the Faberge museum. This one was 450 roubles to go in after having been through security and dropping our backpacks off at the cloakroom. Again this was a museum that requires “slippers” to be placed over your shoes to protect the floor.

The first room of the museum has a number of Faberge eggs, but after that every room is filled with ornate clocks, serving dishes, and other similar things. It didn’t take anywhere near as long as we thought to look around this museum and so was back outside and looking for somewhere for an evening meal before we knew it.

We walked for sometime but didn’t really find anywhere suitable so decided to go back to Italy Bottega again. This time I went for a four cheeses pizza, which they did have this time, and a mango drink which again they didn’t have. This one was a little odd though as unlike other restaurants where they’d bring dishes out to us at the same time they brought my pizza out first and by the time I was finishing it off they brought out my friend’s meal. For dessert I once again tried a slice of their homemade cheesecake.

The meal took around 1h30 which meant we’d got about 2h30 until we were being picked up from the hotel by our guide for the transfer to the train station. At the hotel we collected our bags and got ourselves sorted. My friend however got told off by the hotel staff for falling asleep on one of the chairs. Despite us having been staying there it’s not allowed apparently.

Although we got to the train station around 22:30 we weren’t able to board the sleeper train to Moscow until just after 23:00. Our guide however stayed with us until this time and made sure we had boarded the train okay. On boarding we had to show our passport and ticket and then found our way to our cabin.

The cabin looked like the one that Harry Potter and his friends would ride in on the way to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter films due to the way it had seats facing each other. It was soon transformed though when the seat backs folded down to reveal beds and sheets that we’d be able to use for the journey to Moscow.

The train left Saint Petersburg at 23:55 and shortly after an attendant came around to take our order for breakfast. As this was one of the first-class cabins it also included drinks, and things such as a toothbrush and slippers to try and make the journey more comfortable.

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