St. Petersburg

Before We Left

... And as we were lining up the trip - we found that Russia required a visa (as do all countries) - but Russia's was very different!
First, visas cost about $500 US dollars!
Second, it took each of us an hour to fill out the forms online (and this must be done months in advance so that they can send you official paperwork you must carry at all times).
Finally, the dates you stay in the country must be completely covered. We knew what day we would arrive, but just in case (and with Bob's foresight), we decided to list our return date a week later than we would actually fly home. And OMG - we were glad!
We got notified just before we left that the flight home had been cancelled and rescheduled for a day later! If we had not "extended our stay" on our visa application, we would have been inside Russia but outside our visit dates - and that is a problem when trying to get out!! Ultimately, it gave us an extra day in St. Petersburg, which we needed. Thank you Baba!

We also registered with The Smart Traveler's Enrollment Program (S.T.E.P.) No matter where you go overseas, register with our government - there are so many benefits for the traveler and families.

A month or so before we left, Putin was being elected. Marches in the streets we would be walking were on the nightly news for days. We hoped (and found) that the politics had stabilized before we left. Also, the Pussy Riot group was so active - again, that had settled out, but we did watch the YouTube videos and visited the areas they staged their demonstrations from!   :)

Learning Russian (or at least the Cyrillic alphabet)

Kini, Kimi, and Amy set about learning words, phrases, and the Russian alphabet.
 Amy could not find her favorite site again, but found these two that are very good. Site 1  Site2 
YouTube has some great sites - download or bookmark them and practice, practice, practice! 
The fun thing is that as you learn the letters, you can read signs -
see the Russian signs section at the bottom of this webpage.

The pictures below are clickable thumbnails that will open in a new window or tab.

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Day One -
Getting Acquainted with the Metro

"Every day over 9 MILLION passengers ride the Metro, Moscow’s vast underground subway system. In a single day, an average
of 9,915 trains operate between 5am – 1am, making the New York subway system seem like a miniature child’s toy."

We had done our homework. We made a
list of our most important sights to visit and tried to match them with the metro stops.
It wasn't a matter of reading, but of recognizing the routes and stops.

But nothing prepares you for the reality ... the shear number of people .. the escalators that went down and down
at very severe angles ... the words ... the organized chaos!
With that being said, it was actually very easy to buy tokens and find our lines. We stayed within the major tourist areas which helped a lot, and reviewed our routes every morning before leaving our hotel.

                                                   Red Square

"Red Square isn’t red, nor is that its name. While the Kremlin walls near it have been painted red (originally they were white),
the area we know as “Red Square” is neither red nor square for that matter.
Красная площадь would have normally been translated as “Beautiful Plaza” from the Russian language as it was used in the 17th Century (when its name changed from Trinity Plaza to Beautiful Plaza) and the word for red today derives from the word for “beautiful.”
The square is rectangular and the Kremlin is formed in a triangle. The word we use for “Square” is more properly translated as “plaza.”

St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil's Cathedral was given the nickname "St. Basil's" after the "holy fool" Basil the Blessed (1468-1552). He was very popular with the masses and even Ivan the Terrible.

The design was envisioned and carried out by the architect Postnik Yakovlev. The stories say that after completion, Ivan blinded Postnik to prevent him from constructing a more beautiful building for anyone else. 

There are nine individual chapels, each with its own individually decorated "onion dome". These domes represent the nine victories over Kazan. "St. Basil's Cathedral was primarily built by 'Ivan the Terrible', to commemorate the capture of the Tartar stronghold of Kazan, in 1552, which occurred on the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin. The cathedral, thus, was officially named as 'Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat'."




Kremlin Gate from Inside
Red Square

Red Square is HUGE! It is everything that
one dreams of. Lenin's Tomb is on one side, and the Eternal Flame. We were able to see the changing of the guards. That march is amazing - straight leg our to waist high with the arm coming up to the chest. So different from our march. The rest of the square is lined with small churches, the entrance to the museum (easy to overlook) and various ministry buildings complete the plaza.


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Day Two -
The Kremlin, Diamond Fund / Armory, & Cathedral Square

"The Russian word "kremlin" actually means "fortification", and so there are many kremlins in Russia, but around the world Moscow's kremlin is referred to as "The Kremlin". Historically the Moscow Kremlin was the seat of both political and religious power in Russia, but that changed in 1712 when Tsar Peter the Great announced that he was moving the capital to St Petersburg. Moscow didn't regain its primacy until the communists moved the capital back there in 1918, fearing that St. Petersburg was too vulnerable to invasion."

Inside the Kremlin, we visited the Diamond Fund Exhibit located in the Armory. No pictures were allowed,
but OMG what a tour! The jewelry of the 18th to 19th century Royals - their "regalia" including, 900 uncut diamonds (the largest is called Free Russia at 241.81 carats), 30,000 carats of rough diamonds, a 26.46 pound gold nugget (one of the one hundred slightly smaller on display). And then there were the crowns, tiaras, brooches (1,500 diamonds beyond the sapphires and other gems), braided ropes of pearls and gems, hairpins, earrings, medals ... unreal!

Inside the Kremlin is Cathedral Square with at least five cathedrals. The Annunciation Cathedral (both left and right pictures).

The interior was spectacular (again no pictures allowed) - as was the exterior. The domes of gold were indescribable when the light broke through the clouds. Simply etheric.

As usual, K&K brought more than a little attention with either delighted smiles or confused looks.  :)

On the left is the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great and dates to the 16th and 17th centuries.

On the right, the Assumption Cathedral built in the 1400's. Tsars and Emperors were crowned here.

The Tsar's Cannon was built in 1586. It is considered to be the largest and most ornate cannon in the world. It is a 890mm cannon and weighs about 40 tons.

The yellow building/museum was under renovation - inside and out. During the renovations, Russia wrapped the entire building in a material that exactly replicates what the building will look like when done. Essentially, this photo is of a very big painted sheet!

The Tsar Bell was cast in 1733-1735 on orders of empress Anne Ioannovna. It weighs about 202 tons, is just over 20 feet high, and 21.65 feet in diameter. It is also considered to be the largest bell ever casted.

In May of 1737, a huge fire broke out in Moscow. It spread to the Kremlin and started to engulf the scaffolding around the bell.
As the people were putting out the fire, the cold water fell on the bell which was still cooling off.
The bell cracked - an 11.5 ton piece of the bell fell away.

It was astonishing to see the whole thing! After a long day seeing so much opulence and history, we all took a short walk in the Kremlin gardens where we could see the onion domes of St. Basil's in the distance.

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Day Three -
Kitay-Gorod & the State Museum

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (or Redeemer)
Peter the Great Statue
Tolstoy House


On day three we started at the State Museum. Another incredible museum!

 Gems and gold encrusted bible covers, royal staffs, boxes in traditional cross shapes ... if you could dream it up and add the most magnificent jewels to decorate it, you could not come close to the opulence and beauty of this museum's collections and halls.

Bob liked the piece to the left. It was supported by four dogs (see above).

To the right is a nautilus shell decked out in silver work and supported by a dolphin.


Before there was glass for windows, people used sheets of mica. The lanterns to the left and the room divider on the right both have mica panels.

 We also saw numerous examples of mica being used in everything from windows on carriages to "stained glass" inserts.

G.U.M (rym)
The most impressive shopping mall in all of Russia!

K&K and Bob and Amy do not "shop", and rarely take photos of shopping malls - especially the high-priced ones. We got this photo off the net.

It was a great walk-around, but had the commercial feel that we can find in any big American city. Still, it was worth the 15 minute experience!

Read the history here.

On the left is the dome of Manezhnaya or Manege Square (Russian: Манежная площадь, Manezhnaya ploshchad). It has St. George and the Dragon (patron saint of Russia) above a glass dome of the world. This dome is said to also serve as a clock. Moscow has a 3D brass miniature replica of the Kremlin to mark its spot.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (or Redeemer) (Храм Христа Спасителя, Khram Khrista Spasitelya) is 344 feet tall making it the tallest orthodox church in the world. In 1930 the government needed money, so they removed 20 tons of gold from the domes then Stalin blew it up to try to remove religion from the country. In 1990, Russia decided to rebuild the church. It was finished in 2000 and the footbridge was completed in 2004.

The Peter the Great Statue was created to celebrate 300 years of the Russian Navy. Built in 1997, it features Peter I and is said to be the eighth tallest statue in the world. It is in the Moscow (Moskva) River. Yury Luzhkov, former Mayor, was instrumental in the rebuilding. In November 2008, Virtual Tourist voted it to be the tenth ugliest building in the world.


The footbridge behind the church offer spectacular view of the Kremlin. It is a popular destination for wedding parties as well. We watched brides and grooms put small locks on the bridge rails. It is a tradition to show how their lives and love is locked together. Once closed, the bridge throws the key into the river.
We stopped at a sidewalk cafe for a bite to eat and were delighted to find that there was a basket of small blankets for customers to wrap-up in.

To end the day we toured the Tolstoy House. A fascinating place, but we didn't take any pictures.

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Day Four -
House of Boyer
Pushkin Museum
Gorky Park
Gorky Park was not at all what we expected! It is HUGE at just over 300 acres and it jam packed with every imaginable outdoor sport and spectacle. 

Just to name a few...
ping-pong, roller coasters, a space shuttle mock-up, beer, bicycles, ramps, skateboards, roller blades, beer, paddle boats, bingo, concerts, soccer, beer, arts and crafts, rides, children's forts of all kinds and shapes, restaurants,
oh yea, did we mention beer?

The youngsters were having a great time tossing each other into the big fountain.

But our favorite part of the entire park, was seeing the Yorkie in Gorky!

Check Gorky Park out online

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Day Five
Train Day

The train we took from Moscow to St. Petersburg was a high speed train traveling at 120 miles per hour on average. The trip was four hours through beautiful landscapes. We decided that the overnight train would not be as much fun and we would not be able to see the country side.


(from the net)

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Day Six -
St. Petersburg

Spilt Blood

Our train came into St. Petersburg around 6pm so we relaxed any got ready for a new city to explore.

Our first stop was to take a
hydrofoil to Peterhof.

The ride was impressive. The palace and grounds were unbelievable!

Wrapping your head around the opulence of the Tsars and Empresses was
mind-blowing. It is an experience that makes one think about and question the past, present, and future. But, oh my, it is spectacular!

Kini & Kimi met up with some of the courtesans at court. Instant friends!

Bob, on the other hand, found the climate a bit chilly. Amy loved the cool air and thought that
Bob was a burr wimp.  :)


After we returned to the city, we visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood - it was by far our most favorite and long lasting memory of St. Pete's. The outside is incredible - but the inside? Indescribable. Every millimeter, every crack, every surface is covered in mosaic tiles. Domes a hundred feet up - arches that span stories, detail in color and gold-guilt woven into religious storied panels that just inspire man to think of Saints and Gods.



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Day Seven -
United Buddy Bears - The Art of Tolerance
The Hermitage is one of the only places we could buy tickets online (2011). And it was GLORIOUS! There is a queue (stand in line) outside in the plaza that you get to very early. But with your e-ticket, you go past the rest after the main gate opens and find a little ticket box/person that prints your ticket in a fraction of the time. This allows you to bypass the main ticket line before the rest of the folks. We bought a two day pass and found that we could ask for the tickets to be printed for non-consecutive days - i.e. we could enter on day seven, and again on day day nine.

The square is immense. In the middle is the Red granite Alexander I Column dedicated to his rein from 1801-1825.

(read more here)

The Hermitage itself is a museum like no other. It houses spectacular treasures from every part of the world.

There were vases made of malachite, lapis, and other precious stones that towered over you - with their matching table tops and inlaid/gold  pieces.

There was the 1791 Peacock Clock that filled a room. It was made of precious metals and gems and featured a peacock and other birds, owls, stems and leaves that animated in series of motions to tell the time. 
The Hermitage is endless - in fact even with their maps we got turned around multiple times - but then, we got to see some of the most amazing things a couple of times. The halls weren't halls as we would know them - they were works of art with no undecorated. Vaulted ceilings, gold gilded panels, Romanesque sculptured pillars inside and out, armor, carriages,  and so much more.

This is sculpture of a boy and a dolphin intertwined. A spectacular piece and one of our favorites in the museum.

The mosaic works on the floors, tables, and walls were everywhere - detailed beautiful and just eye-candy.
These are floor mosaics that are everywhere in the museum. Made of different stone hardness and types, the surfaces wear differently over the centuries. Harder minerals have just the slightest rise to them, where the softer stones polish away.

These photos try to show the ever so slight dips between the different minerals used.

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United Buddy Bears program is dedicated to "The Art of Tolerance" and is an international effort to promote tolerance & peace using a single icon (the bear) decorated with individual flare. 

We stumbled upon this exhibit during its time in St. Pete. Had no idea it was placed in a tree-lined park a few blocks from the Heritage. The concepts, the designs, the festive atmosphere was heart-warming.  

K&K made a big splash hanging out with our American bear. (BTW - it had a significant line for the photo opp!)

(learn more here)

Bear Tummies & Bear Butts

Half the fun was to guess the bear's country - what was important to them and what would world viewers understand? Where you correct when you looked t the plaque?

With riot of colors and the same shapes, our lasting impression was of bear tummies and bear, bear butts!

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Day Eight -
Peter & Paul Fortress
 Ivan's Bell Tower
Military Museum


This is the metro station near the Peter and Paul Fortress. Too Cool!!

The Peter & Paul Fortress has a notorious history for being amongst other things, a prison of death. To the right is the "Death Gate" - a prisoner who was taken through that gate was a "dead man walking". The cathedral was undergoing renovation while we were there. Still very beautiful, it houses the remains of the Tsars and the Romonov family. To the top right are Catherine II  & Peter III in the back, and Elizabeth I & Catherine I (the Great). It was here that Peter I tricked his son into returning to Russia only to be imprisoned and killed for treason.   

The Bell Tower

As part of the cathedral, Peter the Great built the bell tower first to test the foundation for the rest of the building. It was completed in 1733 with an angel weather vain at the top of the 400 foot spire. In 1756, it was struck by lightning and was badly damaged. Below are the remnants of the of the frame used to support the angel.

It was a guided tour - in Russian, of course - It was fascinating to listen to the lilt of the language.

The view from almost the top.

There are a lot of bells and they are huge. The "works" of the tower is impressive as well. It reminded us of the old music boxes with a metal drum that plays the music.

On the outside of the fortress in a small beach-like area that the locals use to swim and sunbath.

The Military Museum was a short stroll away. Above are to types of revolving cannons. Ingenious in their design and ability to fire.

The carriage was decorated with canons in the front and rear, and had two large drums to celebrate victory.

One of the flint-lock pistols was designed as a double gun. Shot from one side, flip it over, and shot from the other.

Outside were scores of tanks and weaponry. The helicopter is a tour over the fortress.

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Day Nine -
Hermitage - Second Time

The two instruments in the first picture are tools to determine the explosiveness of the gunpowder mix. In the center is a glass barometer - as the pressure changes, the water would rise up and into the deer. The final picture is typically decorated and hold cases of signet rings.

We spent the rest of the day shopping for gifts and trinkets for family and friends.
The open-market behind the Church of the Spilt Blood was delightful. We bought a friend a set of Matuska dolls (the nesting dolls) that were delightful and other small presents for family.

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Getting Home
  Helsinki 3:30 am full light ...

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Read Signs in Russian!
Food & Drink ...

"McDonalds 700 seat restaurant has already been mentioned, but I’ll add that on the day it first opened in Russia, over 5,000 customers were waiting in line for it to open at 5am. By the end of its first day of operation they had served more than 30,000 people, breaking McDonald’s system-wide opening day records. Today this restaurant continues to hold the record as the busiest McDonald’s restaurant in the world."





Tourist signs

Travel signs  



close-up of left pic sign

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