Destination: St. Petersburg, Russia
Date: May 2013
Our second day in St. Petersburg gave me a little bit of anxiety before we stepped off the boat. I was worried we would get lost or not know what to do without our guide Lena along with us for the day. Just looking at the city from our ship, I could see how huge the city was, and I had learned the previous day how few people spoke English. Compared to the other countries we had visited on this Baltic cruise, St. Petersburg was the worst when it came to speaking English. No one spoke it, not even a little! The fear of getting lost and language were heavy on my mind.
Once again we made it through customs and we walked straight over to the ATM in the cruise terminal and took out some rubles. We hadn’t needed them the day before since our tour had been pre-paid and Lena took care of any extra charges, but today we didn’t want to be stranded without any local currency. Next we called for a cab. This turned out to be a huge rip off that cost us about $40 for a $20 taxi ride to town but I think they knew they had the monopoly on taxis so we paid double and jumped in for a ride. Just getting into the city center from the port takes about 20 minutes so we were lucky to find a cab in the first place.
We had our taxi driver take us to Nevskiy Prospekt. This is one of St. Petersburg’s main arteries and has lots of architecture, shopping, and people watching! This street was once known as the “Street of Tolerance” due to the amount of churches along it, and we even learned that during the Soviet regime one of the churches had been converted into a swimming pavillion but has since been reverted back into a Lutheran church.
Walking down Nevskiy Prospekt we were able to see The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, the Singer House (where sewing machines were once made), the Straganov Palace, the Dutch Church Building, the Aeroflot Building, and the Admiralty Garden. Not far from this street is the St. Issac’s Cathedral which is now an art museum but during the Soviet regime was converted from a church into a museum of Atheism. It was interesting to learn such strange facts of darkness from the Soviet era in Russia.
Continuing our adventure we crossed a bridge on the Neva River and headed over to the Peter and Paul Fortress. This fortress was built in 1703 by Peter the Great and the cathedral there is the burial site for almost all the Russian emperors and czars from the time of Peter himself. The outside walls of the fortress are impenetrable from the Neva but we did have a chance to walk down the beach and touch the icy cold waters of the river. Even in May the water was freezing!!!
Crossing back over the river we decided to find the number one restaurant in St. Peterburg according to Trip Advisor and see what a good Russian meal would be like. After our experience the day before our expectations were rather low. We knew anything was going to be better than our tour company’s recommendation. So our walk began! We passed the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood only to find a cute little shopping area and decided it was a good time to stop and buy some souvenirs for home.
Each shop seemed to be the same with Christmas ornaments, Russian nesting dolls, t-shirts, scarves, key chains all the usual touristy souvenir stuff. We tried to be quick and a few of my travel companions and I made our selections, bartered our prices, and headed out feeling like we had gotten a good deal.
Again our walking continued and we finally came to Trip Adviors #1 rated restaurant in St. Petersburg called Zoom Cafe. The funniest thing about finding Zoom was to find that it was located exactly across the street from the terrible restaurant we had eaten at the day before. I am not kidding! Just 80 feet across the street was Zoom restaurant and our little heaven in the dirty streets of St. Petersburg. We were so excited that they were open, and could seat our party of six.
While we waited to be seated we watched as the door kept opening and more and more people were coming to try Trip Advisors #1. Each person seemed to be from all over Europe and having used Trip Advisor as well they had been lead to this same little slice of heaven. We all ordered different items from the little menus that were printed in both Russian and English and we couldn’t have been happier. What a difference a day makes. I truly couldn’t believe what a good meal I was able to get just a street width away. If only our tour guide, Lena, tour company knew how close they were to gold!!
We ate and were ready to get back to the ship. We estimated that we had walked over five miles around St. Petersburg creating our own adventure. We asked for the hostess at the restaurant to call us a cab and little did we know what a problem we would cause since we didn’t know what ship port we needed to get back to. Since there are two ports on far sides of the city we now had a problem. We didn’t know and of course the taxi wouldn’t come until they knew where we were going. Luckily our sweet tour guide, Lena, from the day before had given me her business card and so we gave her a call. Luckily she answered and Trent was able to find out which port we needed to get back to. He put Lena on the line with our hostess at Zoom and between the two of them they figured out where we were going and knew what to tell the cabbie.
After two days I will honestly say I feel like I saw much of what St. Petersburg had to offer. I was glad to get my communist stereotype out of my head and see this country for what it is today. It is a city with a great heritage, a little dirty, with too many cars, but amazing museums, and value for what the future may hold. Not everyone smiled at us on the street but everyone we stopped was friendly and as helpful as the language barrier would allow. We lucked out with two days of sunshine and good weather and I was finally able to ditch my sleeping bag jacket after noon each day. In all I truly did love all St. Petersburg had to offer and would definitely plan a trip again in my lifetime!
Safe and Happy Travels!!