I’ll start this post by telling you that Russia does a very good job of making someone less inclined to visit due to the strict and expensive tourist visa laws (that apparently tend to differ from embassy to embassy).
The process of applying for a visa looks roughly like this:
1. You must first be “invited” to tour within Russian borders (which often means simply booking with a hotel or a hostel that will extend this invitation to you, sometimes for free, and sometimes for a small fee.)
2. Then, with your invitation in hand (a hard copy of confirmation from your housing accommodation) you must (should) go to a Russian embassy in your home country to apply for the actual tourist visa. This can cost you upward of $400, depending on how long you’re staying and the exact visa you’re applying for.
3. Finally, when you arrive in Russia, you must register your visa with the hostel or hotel you’re staying at. Again, sometimes this is free, and sometimes there is a small fee; it depends on where you’re staying. You must register in each new place you stay, so this can be very time-consuming.
All of that being said, we were on a cruise, and the visa process is quite different, especially since we were not staying overnight. The tour we registered for provided our invitation to tour, and as we were not allowed to stray from the tour group, we didn’t need to have anything other than our passports and immigration forms handy in case of an emergency. So, we picked the longest tour we could find that would allow us the longest time to walk around the city, and that was a 12-hour guided tour.
Our first order of business was to drive into the city center and stop at a few panoramic spots to give us a feel for the city landscape. It started off as a gorgeous day with mild temperatures, and was a great introduction to St. Petersburg. We drove by St. Isaac’s Cathedral to snap a few shots, and then got settled in our van for a decently long drive to Peterhof Palace.
Peterhof Palace is a series of palaces and gardens that were built in the early 1700s. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside of Peterhof, but rules like this, while kind of annoying to someone like me who never stops snapping photos, makes you stop and really just appreciate what you’re looking at. And in Peterhof, there is PLENTY to look at. If you’ve ever been to Versailles, it’s a lot like that, in that you’re walking through a palace that is ornately decorated in every room, and yet each room is completely different from the last. You can check this Wikipedia link if you’re interested in the details from some of the most famous rooms.
While the palace was spectacular, my favorite part of the landmark was the expanse of gardens. (And I was allowed to take photos of the outside, so that made me happy!) Here are some of my favorite shots of the surrounding park.
After Peterhof, we were provided with lunch, which included a Russian pancake! I think inside the crepe was chicken and some kind of creamy sauce, but whatever it was, was delicious. 🙂
Full and happy, we then made our way to the world-famous Hermitage museum, where we spent about 2 hours listening to our ridiculously informative guide tell us about all of the famous art pieces in the museum. Seriously you guys, she talked non-stop for probably close to 9 hours of our 12-hour tour. This isn’t a complaint, as much of it was really interesting, but I just don’t know how someone can remember as many details as she did. It was impressive.
Anyway, I have to admit, Brian and I aren’t really museum people, much less art people, so this wasn’t my favorite part of the tour. However, we did see some amazing architectural work in the building itself – each room was decorated in a very unique way, depending on the art the room was showcasing, and that was truly something to behold.
Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
The first thing you might notice about this next section is the title, and how it might be the longest name you’ve ever heard for a church. That was the first thing I noticed, anyway…
This church is probably one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen in my life. It’s got the very traditional Russian “hershey kiss” tops, and is insanely colorful! (The pictures don’t do it justice – it was cloudy and rainy by the time we got here.)
Besides it’s magnificent exterior, the inside is just as amazing. The entire interior facade is designed with biblical scenes made from mosaic tiles!
After we left the church, we drove around for a little bit longer (although, I think I fell asleep because I don’t remember much after the church) and eventually headed back to the boat.
It was truly a whirlwind 12 hours in Russia, but we really did have a great time and got to see so much of the city! I would look forward to another trip to Russia, although I think next time, we’ll head to Moscow. 🙂
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